Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at the Fillmore Miami Beach, May 11

View photos from Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe at the Fillmore Miami Beach here.

Hooligans in Wondaland Tour

With Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe

Fillmore Miami Beach

May 11, 2011

Better Than: I thought it would be.

Top 40 music has long dealt in mediocre performers who just happened to be plucked up at the right time, coiffed, digitally airbrushed, and packaged to sell. Any number of American Idol contestants would fill the bill if they had a full team pulling their puppet strings and setting up lip-sync machines at amphitheaters around the world.

Real talent is different. And it slaps you in the face.

Regardless of personal bias (e.g. I can't stand the idiotic lyrics to Mars' "Billionaire"), it would be wrong to say that Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe don't have incredibly rare gifts as vocalists and performers. When I walked into the Fillmore last night, I really didn't expect to feel this way by end of their show.  

After opening act Plan B (AKA Ben Drew), a British singer and rapper who performed with a slew of skinny suit-clad accomplices, the packed house at the Fillmore waited anxiously for Monáe's arrival. Every corner of the stage had its own compartment of performers. This included a lofted string quartet at the back of stage right (whose electronic instruments looked like implied outlines of violins and cellos), backup singers near the front, bass and lead guitarists on either side of center stage, and both a traditional rock drummer and a bongo drummer at the back of stage left. Oh yes, and three hooded, death-like figures moping around the middle of it all, one of whom turned out to be Monae, obviously much to the crowd's delight.

Monáe's "unveiling" marked the beginning of the audience's deafening conniption fit, which entailed screaming so intense that the only image I could match it to was footage of '60s Beatlemania. This lasted through the entire concert. And it was kind of a bummer.

Camille Lamb
Janelle Monae's performance left no space wasted.

​Anyway, Monáe dug into her bag of vocal tricks right from the start, scatting and beat-boxing while silhouettes of the Archorchestra performers, her other band members, and herself, played out on the back wall in vivid colors, kinda like the iPod ads. Monáe stuck to her well-known uniform of black and white, as did her entire ensemble. (The quartet looked like a mod fencing team.) But, man, did the singer look pretty. Her face and smile exuded health and youth, as did her lithe body when she started in with her robotic gyrations and perfectly executed moonwalk. 

True to the '50s theme, Monáe's ensemble served its audience with smiles, energy flowing effortlessly from one jitterbugging musician to the next. I really believed that each one was having the time of his or her life. Monáe sang the anxiety-inducing "Faster," as images of her frantic running silhouette were projected on the back wall. The band then transitioned to "Locked Inside" as a yellow light fell across the stage, the back wall turned to rainbow confetti, and dancers with mod bodysuits and exaggerated vinyl cuffs came out to complement the song.

Her voice is powerful, piercing, and flexible. It's truly incredible. But my one complaint might be that she worked it to its full potential too often throughout the show.  I was desensitized by overexposure. But it did allow me to fully appreciate one of the few mellow, uncluttered songs she performed: Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," accompanied only by her guitar player. Other highlights included "Tightrope" and the funky "Wondaland." She even crowd-surfed briefly, the little poofy-haired daredevil.

After a set change, during which someone in the audience was passing a joint, a "Weed! Weed! Weed!" chant promptly erupted. (Correction: I guess it was "Heat! Heat! Heat!" as the Heat won the series. I thought the weed chant was weird. But someone was smoking it!). And then out came Mars and company, with a much simpler stage show, relying mainly on his money-in-the-bank voice and too-charming smile.

His crew consisted of his backup singer, two guitar players, a keyboard player, and a drummer, all standing mostly stationary before a number of huge interlocking frames which acted as video screens, often showing the performers on stage at that very moment.

Camille Lamb
Bruno Mars

One of his opening songs was "Give You the World," which he explained was the first song he ever wrote, and not on the current

Doo-Wops and Hooligans

album. His voice was at once viscous and light. Countless lounge singers have longed to achieve what it seems Mars possesses: the ability to sing unbelievably well while making it look incredibly easy.  

He pandered to his adoring lady fans over and over, who obediently screamed in my ear how much they loved him and how good he was. A lot of the teeny boppers got pretty excited when he crooned "Our First Time," mixing in a few choice lyrics from Usher's sexy "Nice and Slow" and Ericka June's racy "Work the Middle." If the guards hadn't been so strict, I'm pretty sure there would have been a few young women humping the stage.

Mars and three of his musicians performed a beautifully harmonious doo-wop song that showcased his pipes in a non-pop platform. It was pretty impressive.  And then he went on to "Lazy Song," when I found this brother and sister pair, Kristina and Chezore Palacios, both dressed in Janelle Monáe style, singing every word and dancing with synchronized hand movements.

He finished up the night with megahit "Just the Way You Are," graciously thanking the audience and crediting the band when the song was through.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I think the lyrics to "Billionaire" are completely disgusting. Some loser just sitting around fantasizing about having a bunch of money. I think it infuriates me because it reminds me of my ex-boyfriend.

Random Detail: There were lots of audience members wearing fedoras.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Marry me, Bruno!!! I love you Bruno!!! You're so good, Bruno!!!"

Partial Set List

Janelle Monáe
-"Locked Inside"
-"Lay It Down"

Bruno Mars
-"Give You the World"
-"First Time"
-"Runaway Baby"
-"The Lazy Song"
-"Count on Me"
-"Marry You"
-"Nothing on You"
-"Just the Way You Are"

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