|Photo: Kai Z. Feng|
Several big names in modern pop music – plus one surprise from the past – held court at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night for a good cause.
A portion of proceeds from CBS Radio’s Fourth Annual We Can Survive event went to Young Survival Coalition, a breast cancer charity. Between sets, DJs from host station AMP/97.1 FM - and Perez Hilton - introduced women who had beaten the disease (Carson Daly mentioned his mother’s successful battle).
Headliner Bruno Mars, who just appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 with new single “24K Magic,” delivered a sizzling 45-minute set. The tight band, complete with horns, got right down to business and opened with an extended take on mega-hit “Uptown Funk” (fitting lyric: “Saturday night and we in the spot”). They immediately had everyone dancing. The guys were so “hot” that two “firemen” extinguished the stage.
After a blissful “Treasure,” Mars played electric guitar on “Billionaire,” his hit collaboration with Travie McCoy. All the musicians were obviously having fun, particularly during an ebullient “Marry You,” on which Mars played a snippet of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The equally lively “Runaway Baby” featured a nod to the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and the guys totally worked up a sweat. “Grenade,” a supremely soulful “Just the Way You Are” and the boastful Zapp-meets-Sugarhill Gang party vibe of “24K Magic” were other highlights. The evening was capped off with a fireworks display that rivalled what I saw at the Bowl over Independence Day Weekend.
Immediately preceding Mars was an unannounced 25-minute set by Backstreet Boys which had many ecstatic women reliving their 1990s adolescence. The pop vocal group – slated for a Planet Hollywood/Las Vegas residency next spring – sounded smooth as ever on hit songs such as “Backstreet’s Back,” “I Want it That Way,” “Larger Than Life,” plus debut single “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” and “As Long as You Love Me.”
Ariana Grande’s slick performance featured male dancers. Despite coming across as overly professional, she went down well with screaming fans – notably during “Into U,” “Be Alright,” current reggae-tinged top 10 hit “Side to Side” and the slight rock of “Dangerous Woman.”
OneRepublic stood apart from the other acts. Energetic front man Ryan Tedder often recalled Coldplay’s Chris Martin while playing piano and making a connection with the crowd. The frantic gospel fervor of “Love Runs Out” and cello-enriched “Secrets” were enrapturing, while an uplifting “Good Life,” highly emotional “Apologize” (complete with classical piano and falsetto workout by Tedder), airy, synth-laden “Kids” (off the impressive new album “Oh My My”) and infectious “Counting Stars” were equally strong.
Before Pitbull arrived onstage, his life story, synched with Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” was flashed on screens. The band played along to it, then did bits of “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” before the Miami rapper himself appeared with scantily clad female dancers for “Don’t Stop the Party.” The veteran rapper’s high energy, rapid-fire delivery continued amid the funky “Green Light.” It was prefaced by a Nirvana snippet and featured guest Lunch Money Lewis.
“We need to get rid of the negative things in life,” said Pitbull, who also referenced the upcoming election. The dancers writhed around on the festive “Fireball” (I couldn’t help thinking about various children in attendance). Elsewhere, “Feel This Moment,” which shrewdly interpolates A-Ha’s “Take on Me,” the nod to country music in “Timber” and EDM-minded, pop chart topper “Give Me Everything” also fared strongly.
Clad in a sparkly black dress, Meghan Trainor did a solid streamlined performance with female dancers. Her best-known tunes proved less grating live than on albums (“Me Too,” “No,” “All About That Bass”), but the songs where she downplayed the affectations (“Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” “Better”) made more of an impact.
Rapper G-Eazy brought a live drummer and keyboardist along for his moderately interesting, well-received appearance that included the haunting “I Mean It” and guest Bebe Rexha on top 10 hit “Me, Myself & I.”
Charlie Puth kicked off the evening. He displayed some mighty fine vocal and piano chops, especially on lovely current hit single “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” the playful sexuality of “Marvin Gaye” (too bad Trainor didn’t reprise her vocal role here) and yearning ballad “One Call Away.” Yet the angelic “See You Again,” his hugely successful collaboration with Wiz Khalifa (which Puth said “changed my life”), was the most emotionally resonant.
My review originally appeared at ocregister.com.