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Review: Bruno Mars brings Moonshine Jungle to Blaisdell


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

Bark n Bite Blog

Lucas. John, Bruno, Peter, Felix and Mike before Concert at Blaisdell Arena

Everyone loves a hometown hero and last week, Hawaii welcomed home one of its own: Grammy-nominated singer Bruno Mars. Playing a lengthy set decked out in the full regalia of his Doo Wops and Hooligans spectacular, Bruno had no problem wowing his fellow Hawaiians, according to a review of the show from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The best part? Bruno let his dad Peter Hernandez and his band The Love Notes play as the opening act.

It was also a triumph long coming for Bruno’s proud father, Pete “Dr. Doo Wop” Hernandez, who opened the first half of the show with his vocal group, the Love Notes — John Valentine, Felix Almestica Bonet, Mike Baker and Lucas Clemente. Some of them had worked with Bruno and his father at the Esprit Lounge 20 years ago. Hernandez went all out for the evening. 

The quintet performed doo wop classics with a live band behind them and a squad of dancers joining in around them on several numbers. Valentine was featured on “Lonely Boy” — a signature song for him since the mid-80s. Almestica Bonet took the lead on some of the others.

Like father, like son. Bruno got his start with music as a pint-sized Elvis impersonator as a part of his dad's shows, and now he gets to return the favor. It's the circle of life.



No one can say that Bruno Mars doesn’t have an impeccable sense of musical history. Bruno broke into show business more than two decades ago as “the world’s youngest Elvis,” and so there was a definite sense of deja vu in the Blaisdell Arena last night as he opened his sold-out homecoming show with “Also sprach Zarathustra,” the same theme music Elvis used to open his “Aloha From Hawaii” concert in the Arena in 1973.

Bruno needed no emcee’s announcement to get things started with an iconic opening like that. He appeared from the back of the multi-level stage accompanied by his five-man band — four musicians and a singer/MC — put in some time playing the drums, and then stepped on up front and center. The 80-minute performance included all but one of the songs from his “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” album, two of his biggest hits for other artists, and several impressive demonstrations of his stature as a timeless multi-generational entertainer.

Watching him work the stage, connecting with an all-ages audience and playing several instruments along the way, there was no question that over and above his vocal talents Bruno is a phenomenal showman.

Seen from a distance, playing a guitar and leading a group of sharp-dressed men wearing matching black slacks and blue jackets, Bruno could have been one of the “A list” teen idols of the late-50s or early 60s. On several numbers he applied doo-wop vocal styles to contemporary up-to-the-minute music. On one he slipped in just a touch of one of James Brown’s classic dance routines.

Much later in the show he got on keyboards to share a beautiful reworking of “Runaway” — not the song he has up on YouTube, but Del Shannon’s early ’60s hit redone as smooth romantic pop. He should include it on his next album.

Bruno gave the kids in the house another lesson in musical history when he introduced “Billionaire,” his double-platinum collaboration with Travie McCoy, with “the song that inspired it” — Barrett Strong’s unforgettable 1960-vintage hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” Anyone who still thinks Bruno Mars only does soft love songs obviously hasn’t heard all the songs on the album — “Runaway Baby,” for example — but last night’s concert-stage renditions of “Money” and “Billie Jean” showed that he can R-O-C-K as well.

The songs from the album were what Bruno’s young core constituency was there to hear, and didn’t disappoint them. They screamed when he sang “Our First Time” a capella, they sang along on cue enthusiastically on “Count On Me” and “Just The Way You Are,” and they responded as one voice when band member (and Smeezingtons member) Philip Lawrence called on them to “say ho” and then gave the order “everybody scream!”

Scream they did.

Lawrence was also the catalyst in a bit that actually seemed to break Bruno up for a second. Bruno stepped away from his mike after Lawrence did the “Oh my God! This is great!” line in “The Lazy Song,” and it seemed to take him a second or two to get himself together before he stepped back to the mike and asked Lawrence to take it from the top and do it again.

Lawrence did, and Bruno appeared to momentarily lose it a second time.

“That’s him doing it on the record,” Bruno finally explained.

If Bruno’s reaction was spontaneous, it was a great moment. If not, it was still beautifully played.

The highlight number for many fans was probably “Just The Way You Are.” Bruno and the band did it as the final song of the main set.

“If you’ve got a light, put it up in the air,” Bruno said as the song was starting.

Looking down on the action from my reviewer’s seat in the higher altitudes of an upper level section located behind the stage the arena below was a sea of bobbing points of light.

For Bruno the evening was a triumphant homecoming. It was a good night for others as well. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle kept a campaign promise to not sing at every public event he attended, but he had a great time on stage after intermission reading the proclamation designating Friday as “Bruno Mars Day” in the city. Rarely if ever has a city official done this routine duty with a better balance of respect for the honoree and audience on one hand and self-deprecating wit on the other.

It was also a triumph long coming for Bruno’s proud father, Pete “Dr. Doo Wop” Hernandez, who opened the first half of the show with his vocal group, the Love Notes — John Valentine, Felix Almestica Bonet, Mike Baker and Lucas Clemente. Some of them had worked with Bruno and his father at the Esprit Lounge 20 years ago.

Hernandez went all out for the evening. The quintet performed doo wop classics with a live band behind them and a squad of dancers joining in around them on several numbers. Valentine was featured on “Lonely Boy” — a signature song for him since the mid-80s. Almestica Bonet took the lead on some of the others.

Hernandez capped the Love Notes’ set with surprise appearances by a pair of long-time friends and professional celebrity impersonators — Gerry Moore/Little Richard and Bobby Brooks/Jackie Wilson. Moore got the crowd rocking with “Good Golly Miss Molly” and Brooks took it home with “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”

It’s been too long since Moore and Brooks have had a steady showroom gig here, and props to Hernandez for adding them to the Love Notes’ “Welcome Home, Bruno” set on Sunday.

As for Bruno and everyone who welcomed him home, it was a show to remember from the opening notes of “Also sprach Zarathustra” through his final farewells after “I’ll Remember You.”

And, it seems certain it will be the first of many sold-out shows for Bruno at the Blaisdell.



Back stage at Blaisdell Arena, Felix Bonet Co-founding member

of The Lovenotes Show, and Dagmar Bonet with Bruno Mars. 

Click on StarAdvertiser above, to read full review.

Star bulletin

By John Berger

The Tradewinds (in red) hung out with Rolando Sanchez, left, Ruth Lin, seated, Dagmar Bonet and emcee Irwin Santos after they performed at the premiere party for “Entertain Me!” Saturday at Hawaiian Brian’s.

The show airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on KHON. The Tradewinds — Booker T, Lonz, Mike Pajil and Felix Bonet.

Airborne 2/503 Vietnam Newsletter

The Bravo Bull with the Dulcet Tones

Following our time in Vietnam some of us chose to make a career out of the army, while others went on to work in law enforcement, education, technology the trades and many other life callings. Felix Almestica of B/2/503d, however, along with his bride Dagmar chose a shared life in music; and once you hear their work you'll agree, it was a good choice. Ed read more

Various publications

Blast from the past

Press Tidbits  Felix Bonet

      Felix has performed in Dance, Cabaret and Lounge acts and has recorded with Henry Kopono, of Cecilio and Kopono, Richard Natto of Society of Seven while in Toma Natto, Wade Cambern of Hawaiian Style Band while in Jetstream, Nueva Vida and The Lovenotes,. Here are some Local Newspaper tidbits.

      "Jetstream, the band performing at Nicholas Nicholas, had a career break, too, performing a set that displays elements of rock, jazz, fusion and soul. A wingding finale, involving a cast of 11, could only be staged in a venue like the Arena, and the act was flying on this one. And Kauai singer Glen Medeiros, whose "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" recording is a bit hit on KIKI/94 Radio, drew hearty applause for his lone vocal, played by Jetstream, which opened the Jermaine Jackson Concert."    

      Honolulu Advertiser, Wayne Harada 

      "All that jazz....Felix of the musical group Nueva Vida provides the beat for jazz lovers at the 5th annual Windward Jazz Festival held Sunday at Hawaii Loa College. Listeners show their appreciation."

            Sun Press, David Dinell

      "When band Jetstream began playing the other night at Nicholas Nickolas, three fellows asked to be moved closer to the bandstand in the middle of their meal. And when the band played "Night Shift," one of them said: "That's the second best version of that song we've heard behind ours." Quite a compliment-trio turned out to be J.D Nichols, Walter Orange and Milan Williams, a.k.a. the Commodores."

            Star Bulletin, Don Chapman

      "Princeville Patter: Jetstream, who left Nick's Fishmarket in Honolulu to take on a gig at the Ukiyo Lounge in Kauai, has been extended three times at the club, according to spokesman Felix. And guitarist Brian Kessler is quite excited about a musical collaboration with Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Nash intends to include the song on an upcoming solo album"...

            Honolulu Advertiser, Wayne Harada

      "Terrific break for the band Jetstream. TV producer Don Ohlmeyer heard the band-Che Cambern, Tony Gillis, Bill Grannis, Brian Kessler, Felix during dinner at Nicholas Nickolas and was so impressed he invited them on the spot to perform for 5,000 top people in the recording industry before the annual MTV awards gala in L.A.".

      Honolulu Advertiser, Wayne Harada