Bruno Mars is in "the zone."
He's flying in rarefied air, in the same space where elite athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams travel. Only his success doesn't translate to championship trophies. It's told on the Billboard charts.
Not even three years into his solo career, the 27-year-old Hawaiian is turning out smash pop singles at a mind-boggling pace. It's like Creedence Clearwater Revival in the late '60s, Elton John in the early '70s and Mariah Carey throughout the '90s. Even Mars' mediocre offerings -- of which there are plenty -- shoot up the charts.
It's no wonder that Mars' current Moonshine Jungle Tour is one of the year's hottest treks. It packed the recently renamed SAP Center (formerly the HP Pavilion) in San Jose to capacity on Thursday night.
It was a solid outing for the multiplatinum star, whose skills onstage might even surpass what he shows in the studio. He's an old-school entertainer, borrowing from the best -- Michael Jackson, James Brown, Al Green -- and ignoring the rest.
His greatest challenge onstage, ironically, is his own songbook. Sure, it's chock full of hits. It's also rather tepid, full of tunes that make Hootie and the Blowfish come across like Slayer. Mars' ability to incorporate different musical styles and still wind up with a homogeneous sound intended for mass consumption is nothing short of astounding.
Although the songs were sometimes bland and boring, Mars' performance of them sure wasn't. Kicking off with an energetic version of "Moonshine," Mars worked hard for fans' money throughout the approximately 100-minute concert.
The show was short on special effects, at least until the confetti-drenched, pyrotechnics-fueled ending. Yet, Mars didn't really need them. His remarkable star power -- the kind that can elicit squeals from the crowd with a simple hand gesture -- was more than enough to light up the hockey arena as he rolled through tracks from his two studio albums (2010's "Doo-Wops and Hooligans" and 2012's "Unorthodox Jukebox") as well as other material.
When he wasn't leading his top-notch band, which boasted a mighty three-piece horn section, Mars did a fine job engaging the crowd with funny stage banter and time-honored tricks of the trade. He gave the crowd a lesson in "R&B 101," teaching us the importance of hollering "damn" onstage, and tried to convince the crowd to put down their smartphonesfor the evening.
"We came here to get y'all shaking and dancing. You can't really do that if you're videotaping," said Mars, likely hoping to avoid being the subject of thousands of new blurry videos on YouTube and out-of-focus pictures on Instagram. "Put the cameras away. Tonight is for us and only us."
The funniest moment of the night came when he tried to find a woman in thecrowd to serenade. There were, of course, several willing volunteers, but Mars was looking for one who wouldn't get him in trouble.
"Looks like you've got a bigass boyfriend," he said to one volunteer. "I don't know if I want to (expletive) with that."
He drew the main set to a close by playing four straight No. 1 hits — "Nothin' on You," "When I Was Your Man," "Grenade" and "Just the Way You Are." For the encore, he rolled out another chart-topper, "Locked Out of Heaven."
After all that, he still didn't get around to playing all his No. 1 hits. For an artist with only two full-length solo albums to his credit, that's truly amazing.
Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic.