Clusterfuckery. Just say it. Now say it again—go ahead. Feels good, doesn’t it? It’s an even better term than “asshat,” and that little gem is epic in and of itself.
The term “clusterfuckery” is just one of the many epiphanies flowing like good champagne from last weekend’s annual reunion with my high school bestie, Mel. We try to link up at least once every year, either in New York State where she lives or in South Florida where I live, to let down our hair, our guard, and (to some degree) our inhibitions. Schedules, jobs and parenthood sometimes extend that timeline a little, but we’ve been pretty good about it overall.
Given that both Mel and I are both big music fans, concerts have been a going theme for many of our annual shindigs. Ten years ago it was Sting in Philly (way to set the bar, Mel). Two years ago we saw a fabulous performance by talented and gorgeous jazz musician Bria Skonberg at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, and most recently it was Salt-n-Pepa and the surprisingly badass Rick Springfield at SunFest in West Palm Beach (rock it, Dr. Noah Drake).
This year, we decided to rip the roof off the joint and join a 20,000 person-strong house party called 24K Magic, hosted at Ft. Lauderdale’s BB&T Center by none other than Bruno Mars. I’d been chafing at the bit to see the jewel-encrusted goodness of this tour since I first saw Bruno live in Mannheim, Germany in 2013. Back then I’d gotten cozy with about a hundred German teenage girls with gorgeous hair and ridiculously dewy skin to wait in line for a general admission spot close the stage, the action, the energy, the fire. Let’s just say it was worth it.
Like the rest of the United States, apparently, I bought tickets to the 24K Magic World Tour the day they went on sale, and before I knew it, most of a year had passed and I was squeezing the stuffing out of Mel at the airport and whisking us off to our resort while we covered every topic from soccer (artificial turf is a bitch) to A-Ha’s classic “Take on Me” (Morten Harket’s falsetto is insane). Over in the passenger’s seat, Mel let loose about everything on her mind while she slowly removed her metaphorical bobby pins in the soothing heat of the Florida sun. By the time I was schooling her on any as-yet-unheard parts of the 24K Magic album in the venue’s parking lot, she was fully decompressed, grooving expertly to “Perm,” and recovering her breath control remarkably quickly after hearing the lyrics to “Straight Up and Down” for the first time.
I could merrily spend the next several paragraphs telling you what you already know—Bruno Mars and the Hooligans put on a fricking fantastic show that night. It was absolutely lit from front to back, top-shelf from a musical perspective, funny, sexy and electric. Bruno covered most of the songs on the new album as well as the not-to-miss pieces from his discography. Though 24K Magic’s homage to the 90s-era hip-hop that Bruno grew up to isn’t particularly my favorite musical lane, every damned song on that album is tightly written, and Bruno Mars, clever little shit that he is, knows exactly how to tweak them for optimal impact when he performs them live. And then, when the set list moves into classics like “Grenade” and “Locked Out of Heaven,” we’re suddenly up to eleven on the rock-out scale. He even amped up the family-friendly factor this time around by cutting out some of the more mature material (like the not-suitable-for third grade second verse of “Gorilla,” for example).
But “kick-ass show” doesn’t cover all that we got out of that night at the concert, or out of a weekend spent reinforcing the best friend ties that have bound us for so long. That little extra something, the gem-like epiphanies that jangled in our pockets as Mel and I ambled to the car all giddy and spent, were realizations that sparkled as much in celebration of our friendship as it did of an epic night with Bruno and his crew. Here they are:
Bruno Mars lives in the pocket. He and his band have an uncanny ability to put the groove right where it needs to be, and stay in the very middle of that sweet spot time and time again–every night, every city, every performance. And if you’re a fan, you know you’ll always get back to that place and will feel the same, reassuring beat right where you know it should be. Mel and I have that kind of relationship; we can pause a conversation in May 2016 and pick it right back the hell up 15 months later exactly where we left off, no clusterfuckery involved. That familiarity is the very backbeat of our friendship, never out of sync and always right on time. Like the irresistible groove of “Uptown Funk” or the guitar intro to “Runaway Baby,” now familiar to any fan’s ear, Mel and I can always count on finding again the rhythm of our banter and the melodies we’ve heard in each other’s voices for so many years. We’re always right in the pocket with each other, and it feels good.
Let’s just get this one out of the way quickly, shall we? Bruno Mars, his “I’m cute-but I’m naughty-but I’m cute” dimples, his sexually-charged lyrics, and those hyperflexible hip joints of his are hot, and (as Mel very correctly pointed out) so are the rest of the Hooligans grinding across the stage all night. From the aforementioned lyrics to “Straight Up and Down” (“I put you on and now you’re feeling right”? Really?) to his two-octave lowered “Hey Baby” purr during “Calling All My Lovelies,” Bruno’s goal on the 24K Magic tour was clearly to heat things up and make us feel him. It worked. From hip-hop swag to love songs to straight-up pimp music, he worked it as only Bruno Mars can, raising the temperature more and more as the night wore on. The steam room hit its maximum temperature with “Gorilla,” performed complete with a smoking guitar solo and an extended foreplay-to-climax breakdown that I think may actually have gotten Mel pregnant.
But it’s not just Bruno. Every stinking Hooligan knows perfectly well how to work us into a frenzy, mugging and strutting and seducing us right along with their front man. As a side note, I invite my super-bendy, no-appreciable-resting-heart-rate yoga instructor to try and execute multiple hip thrusts while playing the trombone. Go ahead. Give it a try. I dare you.
How does this one translate to my bestie and me? That’s easy. We are hot. We felt hot, Bruno and the gang reminded us we were hot, and we celebrated being hot. Period. And you know what? Our skin is still dewy as shit, too.
Philip Lawrence is no joke. Phil is Bruno Mars’ writing and producing partner, collaborator, and friend. And he’s also a first-rate musician in his own right. About six months ago, I downloaded his solo album, Letters I Never Sent, and was genuinely impressed by both the writing and the execution. Check out the revival-esque “Heaven High” and “Lullaby,” a beautiful a cappella voice recording to his kids from a musician dad on the road.
But I digress. When Phil and Bruno sing together, it’s easy to hear Phil’s deep tones in contrast to Bruno’s clear highs. But solo, on record, Lawrence’s voice is finely layered, nimble and multi-faceted, with a seriously appealing Jeffrey Gaines / Lenny Kravitz quality to it. On this tour, especially during the extended version of “Calling All My Lovelies,” Phil gets the opportunity to work it for real and sends up some pleading R&B goodness that had me paying serious attention. Damn, Phil. Eureka moment.
Even though we know each other so well, every reunion between Mel and me provides a similar kind of eureka moment—a new characteristic or angle in one of us that delights and surprises the other. This time around, I finally fessed up to Mel about the secret writer thing I’m doing. She responded quite well, I think, especially given that I’ve been doing this side hustle for a few years now. And the surprises won’t stop anytime soon, for either of us. We are evolving women, after all, growing into our own increasingly complex layers and tones, and it’s fascinating to watch each other hit those new notes and nail them.
Under the jerseys and bling, after the hips have stilled and the prancing stops, Bruno Mars the group is at its core one hell of a great band, and Bruno Mars the man is a brilliant musician with a level of raw talent that is truly astonishing. Arranger, multi-instrumentalist, producer, songwriter, singer, performer–it’s all there and it’s all enormous. His consistently all-in vocals feature notes that I can’t believe he actually writes for himself. For example, even after dipping up into the stratosphere more than a few times throughout the show, including an insane bellow of supplication in “Calling All My Lovelies,” when it came time for “When I Was Your Man,” Bruno still kicked it up a few more notches, leaving no doubt that he is a vocal force to be reckoned with.
And let’s not forget the guitar work. His well-placed solos throughout the show only serve to reinforce the open-mouthed head-shaking we all did during that Prince tribute at the Grammy’s this year, when we realized that Bruno Mars can seriously shred. Mel hears some Clapton in his playing, and I think she’s totally right. Just do me favor, Bruno, and steer clear of Clapton’s guitar work on Phil Collins’ “I Wish It Would Rain Down.” That’s my feel-the-feels high school throwback anthem. You play that song and I could very well get pregnant, too.
Mel and I are not elite musicians, charismatic front women, or rockers with “take me to bed” dimples and hyperflexible hips (well, I’m not sure about that last one, actually–see yoga reference above). But my best friend and I are masters of our own crafts—the crafts of raising a family, of building a marriage, of managing a successful professional career, and of singing expertly the arias that compose us. We are divas, ever honing the art of ourselves and doing a fucking excellent job of it.
24K Magic is different from Doo-Wops and Hooligans and Unorthodox Jukebox in many ways. Mel 2017 has evolved on many levels from Mel 2016, and Zaide 2017 is sure as hell a work in progress. The night after the show, as we relaxed in our suite following a day on the beach and at the spa, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, as one does under a haze of sun and champagne. Right there in front of me on the screen was a recent acoustic clip of A-Ha performing a ballad version of “Take on Me,” Harket’s effortless climbs into falsetto landing with delicate beauty in this stripped-down and austere rendition. At its core, “Take on Me” is a solid song, and it’s beauty shines through every format it takes. Like Mel, like me, like Bruno and his Hooligans, it continues to pivot on a powerful fulcrum, becoming better and better as it grows and gains speed and power over time. I can’t wait to see what Mars’ next evolution will be. I can’t wait to see what Mel decides to add to the palette of her life between now and our next glass of wine. And I can’t wait to continue diving into who I’ll be when I again raise my glass to hers in a toast to us, pinky rings to the moon.