Bruno Mars’ return to Honolulu on Friday for the first of three sold-out shows at Blaisdell Arena was like Christmas for his fans — a day eagerly anticipated for months before it actually arrived.
Mars’ fans certainly got everything they’d been waiting for. Mars hit all the high falsetto notes on cue, busted out some old school dance moves along with slick contemporary choreography, switched things up several times on guitar and played drums as well.
The set list included most of his most popular work to date. “Just The Way You Are,” his Grammy Award-winning pop hit, was one of the highlight numbers and quickly became a spontaneous audience sing-along. He introduced “When I Was Your Man” as “the hardest song I’ve ever had to write or sing” and made it the most melancholy and depressing spot in the show.
Mars and his band, The Hooligans, took the stage shortly before 10 p.m. Friday and worked for almost 90 minutes. Two large video screens gave most of the audience a close-up view of the action, while a large video backdrop displayed an assortment of real-time footage and recorded clips.
The show has a few surprises in it, but anyone who remotely cares probably already knows what they are thanks to the Internet. Professional photographers were not allowed inside Blaisdell Arena, but with all the smart phones in use throughout the performance, big chunks of it are probably already up for free viewing on YouTube.
The crowd included many notables. Actor Daniel Dae Kim slipped in without fanfare. Former UH basketball star Artie Wilson watched the show from a seat in the risers as did former Major League Baseball player Benny Agbayani and his wife, Neila.
Honolulu resident Henry Ajitomi wasn’t as lucky; he were there alone because his wife had a headache. Rush Patel lucked out; he’d stopped by the box office on a whim and discovered that although the show was supposedly sold out, tickets were still available.
The crowd also included plenty of young women in tight dresses, and a surprising number of pre-teens checking it out with their parents as chaperones.
Although Honolulu is the umpteenth stop on Mars’ Moonshine Jungle tour that began almost a year ago, he did a bit more to acknowledge his birth place than a pro forma shout-out almost every concert artist does in almost every town they play. Most notably, he changed the lyrics of “Billionaire” to mention Zippy’s and “the cover of MidWeek.”
The MidWeek reference was something of an inside joke for Hawaii residents old enough to remember Bruno was on the cover of MidWeek with Glenn Medeiros and Melveen Leed back in the early 1990s when he performed as The World’s Youngest Elvis.
He also made a joking reference to women from Waianae, and developed the phrase, “Howzit, auntie?” into a recurring punch line.
Hawaii also got something special with Friday’s two opening acts. Mars’ father, Pete “Dr. Doo Wop” Hernandez, whose group, the Love Notes, opened the 2010 Bruno Mars concert here, did it again this year, but in a bigger way.
This time, Hernandez and Love Notes were reenforced with a full Latin band for a first-time blending of traditional doo-wop with Latin rhythms. Hawaii has known Hernandez for years as an uncompromising advocate of classic doo-wop, but he showed on Friday that he is also a charismatic Latin percussionist who can give Sheila E. a run for her money.
Old-time Love Notes members Felix Almestica Bonet and Mike Baker — who were part of the group during its heyday at the Esprit Lounge in the Sheraton Waikiki — distinguished themselves as vocalists.
Local reggae band The Green got a longer set as the second opener and showed they’re on track to becoming arena headliners as well.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.