MANILA, Philippines – When Bruno Mars first performed in Manila in April 2011, it was the most packed I’ve ever seen the Araneta Coliseum during a concert. The venue was sold out but organizers released SRO tickets to meet the incredible demand. Not an inch of space was left unoccupied for the Grammy-winning performer.
Back then, Bruno Mars had only released one full-length album, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, and collaborated on a few singles with different artists, yet his popularity was something else, especially here. No doubt it helped that he has Filipino blood (most everyone knows by now that his late mother, Bernadette Hernandez is from the Philippines) and that extra bit of information certainly helped up his star power in these parts.
But above everything else, Bruno Mars is the consummate performer, and I discovered that during the show. I remember when he materialized onstage, wearing a casual plaid button-down shirt, red jeans and his trademark fedora, Mars ran towards the back to play a quick drum solo before launching into the opening song, “The Other Side,” off the EP It’s Better If You Don’t Understand. It became clear to me then that Mars’ outstanding vocals and quirky charm weren’t overinflated or overhyped. The man was a bundle of talent wrapped up in a likable, aw-shucks exterior.
Mars sampled “Money (That’s What I Want)” before launching into one of his very first hits, “Billionaire” (sung with Travie McCoy in the recorded version). Known for his distinct, genre-defying sound, the singer displayed impressive vocal chops throughout the long set. He engaged the audience during short spiels, but not too much.
(Watch Bruno Mars perform "Locked Out of Heaven" live here)
After asking the crowd for permission to “go crazy for a few minutes,” he kept the momentum going with a surprising mash-up of the instantly recognizable guitar riff of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Creativity and a tip of the hat to the icons of our time – it was very hard not to like this guy.
Mars performed almost all of the songs in his debut album Doowops and Hooligans, including “Liquor Store Blues” and “Grenade” (which he said at the time was his most favorite song he’s ever written), as well as an early hit with rapper B.O.B, “Nothin’ On You.”
'Proud to be Filipino'
Of course, he saved the best for last. Before launching into his massive hit “Just The Way You Are,” Mars thanked his Pinoy fans and with head held up high, told everyone, “I am very, very proud to be Filipino.” Considering how much we Filipinos love to claim anyone with even a drop of Filipino blood as our own, it was a sentiment that was met with the loudest applause of the evening. Expectedly, the entire coliseum turned into a giant karaoke room, with almost everyone there joining Mars for the finale.
Tomorrow, Mars returns to perform in Manila. His stock has grown much, much more from three years ago, especially after his Grammy wins and his explosive performance at the last Super Bowl. I have no doubt that those watching are in for a wild ride. – Rappler.com
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana