For once, the weather won’t be a factor.
The seasoned summer concertgoer is accustomed to taking in shows at the many outdoor and partially covered stages in our region, where basking in the sunshine is half the fun, and dealing with the potentially nastier elements is accepted as part of the gamble. But this summer, three of the biggest shows on the docket will be indoors.
During a 10-day period stretching between Monday and July 9, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake – three of the biggest names in modern mainstream pop – will bring their (mostly) highly successful touring spectacles to the First Niagara Center.
Buffalo may be a secondary concert market when it comes to many other genres – the bigger indie-rock, alternative, hip-hop and metal shows, for example, are largely passing us by this year – but when it comes to mainstream pop mega-tours, it’s tough to argue with the top-tier marquee power of a Mars, a Gaga or a Timberlake. All three of the shows – Timberlake’s a rescheduling of an earlier gig canceled due to health issues – sold briskly right out of the gate, with Timberlake ultimately selling out, Mars very close to doing the same at press time, and Gaga bringing up the rear.
Perhaps the Lady’s top ticket price of $202.50 per seat scared away a few of her beloved “Monsters.” In fairness, Timberlake’s top price point of $177.50 seemed to scare none of his fans. Mars, wisely, tops out, price-wise, at $99.50 a seat. (All three of these shows did offer seating beginning at less than $50 per seat.)
The confluence of these three heavyweight pop shows in such a short period of time might make it tough for concertgoers, since all three share the same audience – if you are a fan of one, it’s likely you are a fan of the other two. But, summer concert budget concerns notwithstanding, if you are a fan of contemporary mainstream pop music – what, during the glory days of radio, would have been referred to as Top 40 – then you should be exulting in your good fortune. Three of the biggest names in that world are about to touch down in your backyard.
8 p.m. Monday
Reports from the road suggest that Mars is delivering a feel-good mini-festival, a blend of spectacle, soulfulness and showmanship. Of the three big shows, this one might prove to be the easiest to love. Mars is a genuinely talented singer, guitarist, dancer and drummer, and his high tenor voice is hitting its peak right about now.
The downside? Well, I’d certainly not be the first one to suggest that, though he is clearly a talent, Mars is not exactly breaking new ground. His act blends Motown, Prince, Michael Jackson and some James Brown-inspired dance moves into what several reviews from his tour to date have called a seamless and, according to Newsoberver.com, “super-tight” set marked by a show that provided “sensory overload from the start.”
What he may lack in originality, Mars tends to make up for through sheer dedication, enthusiasm and easygoing charm. He also knows his way around a melody. Expect “When I Was Your Man” to be a highlight. And make yourself comfortable, too – Mars tends to perform in the area of 100-plus minutes.
7:30 p.m. July 7
The First Lady of danceable art-pop returns to the scene of an earlier conquest.
Lady Gaga played the then HSBC Arena in March of 2011, at a time when she was arguably the biggest pop star in the world. She offered a dynamic, exciting and enthusiastically received show to an audience clearly in love with her. That year’s “Monster Ball Tour” was one of the most successful of 2011 and 2012.
Gaga’s star has faded somewhat in the time since, however. Her “Artpop” album was largely viewed as both an artistic and a commercial failure; early reports from the “Artrave: The Artpop Ball” tour were often less than kind. In fact, Gaga’s May show in Madison Square Garden, which should have been a homecoming victory lap for the New Yorker, was savagely berated by Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, in what amounted to a “How the mighty have fallen” type of critique. “Lady Gaga’s Live Artflop: Artrave Show Fails to Impress in New York,” ran Rolling Stone’s headline.
Most of this comes down to backlash, of course. Every artist that scales the heights Gaga scaled – planting her flag at the top of the mountain right around the time she last played Buffalo – is due for some critical drubbing once the pendulum commences its inevitable return swing. Gaga’s FNC concert will boast the flash, the costume changes, the dancers, the freakiness, the fake vomit and a majority of the songs that made a large portion of the pop culture-savvy world population fall in love with her in the first place. She should not be counted out.
8 p.m. July 9
This one is a can’t miss. Anyone who has heard Justin Timberlake’s more recent material and can’t find a kind word to say about the guy must be made of stone. He has displayed growth as an artist, while so many of his former boy-band peers have been artistically petrified and already are condemned to the nostalgia circuit. He’s found a way to push the boundaries a bit, while maintaining a firm hold on the affections of his pop-loving fan base; and he’s done all of this while maintaining a pleasant, self-effacing and consistently upbeat public persona.
For once, critics and fans seem to find themselves on common ground when it comes to Timberlake. He’s respected by peers, adored by women and envied by men. And he puts on one hell of a show.