DALLAS Halfway through his sold-out show Monday night at American Airlines Center, Bruno Mars made a confession.
“I’ve got a special place in my heart for old-school music,” said the Honolulu native.
It was the understatement of the evening.
The Dallas stop on Mars’ “Moonshine Jungle” tour was 90 minutes of vintage showmanship fused with a 21st-century pop sensibility.
If James Brown, with his Swiss watch precision and flair for the dramatic, would have indulged in an R&B medley mixing Ginuwine with R. Kelly, it might have approximated what the fedora-clad Mars and his game-for-anything backing band delivered Monday.
Put it another way: If Bruno Mars had been making music in the ’80s, he would’ve been a global superstar five times over, a musical powerhouse on par with the other single-monikered titans of pop music — Madonna, Michael or Whitney.
Instead, here in the ’10s, Mars has to settle merely for being ubiquitous on the radio, racking up formidable download totals and taking home almost every industry trophy you can name.
Yet he wears the fame as lightly as the tropical shirt that clung to his sweaty torso Monday.
His perfectionist tendencies aren’t always immediately apparent — keep an eye on the towels deftly tossed to and from the stage to mop up perspiration, however — but the end result is a blast of pure enjoyment, one of the most unabashedly entertaining arena shows yet seen in North Texas this year.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter is touring behind his smash sophomore solo album, last year’s Unorthodox Jukebox, which has already spawned a trio of hit singles ( Locked Out of Heaven, Treasure and When I Was Your Man).
All three were aired out Monday, along with album cuts like Natalie and If I Knew, and Runaway Baby, from his debut, as the capacity crowd shrieked at every swiveled hip and come-hither grin.
Mars, an old hand in front of paying audiences, moved easily from lusty lothario to fun-loving bandleader, buoyed by the eight-piece band sharing the stage.
The pace was a brisk one — Mars was nearly halfway through the 16-song set list 30 minutes in — but the sheer exuberance emanating from the disco ball-augmented platform was undeniable.
What was most refreshing about the evening was the sense that, even though Mars is flogging a product, the show never felt forced or, as is more commonly seen at this level, cynically designed to satisfy the artist, but leave the audience at arm’s length.
At one point, Mars and his bandmates detoured into cheeseball pick-up lines, emulating early ’90s R&B artists, complete with goofy poses and instrumental breakdowns. It’s probably part of the nightly schtick, but Mars and company made the interlude feel spontaneous and, best of all, funny.
So many current pop acts fetishize the past without really understanding what makes it so great — empty nostalgia meant to elicit a reaction, but little else. It’s not enough to evoke what has come before; how does it inform the here and now?
Like few other of his contemporaries, Mars seems to understand that nothing — not lasers and smoke, not LED screens the size of a two-story house — can trump sharp songs, performed well on actual instruments and presented with panache.
Thanks to Bruno Mars, Dallas got a dose of old school delivered with modern flair — and, boy, did it pop.