Las Vegas’ iHeart Radio offered its audience plenty of fireworks on its second night, with a barrage of pyrotechnics going inside the arena, often leaving the stage in a smoky haze. Plenty of musical fireworks accompanied those literal pops and flames, from Paul McCartney, who opened the show with an eight-song set that included three new numbers, to recently announced Super Bowl act Bruno Mars.
Sir Paul started in a little after 7:30, opening with a rollicking rendition of “Magical Mystery Tour,” which set the tone for a night that featured truly surreal performances from both Miley Cyrus and Kesha. McCartney’s set was a mixture of the old and new with the punk energy of “Save Us” and the anthemic sing-along “Everybody Out There” complementing a joyful “Lady Madonna” and the bombastic “Live And Let Die,” the first song of the night to feature those fireworks.
Following McCartney is an almost impossible task, so iHeart’s producers used rising DJ Zedd, who’s a producer on Lady Gaga’s new album, as a bridge to the rest of the night. Zedd’s brief mix of pop and dance set the stage for the radio-friendly Maroon 5, who delivered exactly what the crowd wanted with songs like “Moves Like Jagger.”
Dance beats were another big theme of the night with closer Justin Timberlake going electro-heavy in his set, from the opening “Sexy Back” to the live debut of “TKO.” He included two other new tracks, “True Blood” and “Only When I Walk Away,” and switched things up with the moody melody of “Cry Me A River” and the upbeat pop elegance of “Suit And Tie.”
On almost any other night, Timberlake, who was introduced by boxer Floyd Mayweather as the “Heavyweight champion of pop,” would be the talk of the show, but as the patrons streamed out of the MGM Grand somewhere near one a.m. that night, the popular topic was Bruno Mars.
Using his brief time onstage to deliver a captivating mix of horn-infused funk and soulful vocals, Mars showed a lot of promise for the upcoming Super Bowl spot. Opening with “Locked Out Of Heaven” and “Treasure,” he proved a generous band leader as he let the horn section lead the songs into a symphony of James Brown-inspired funk and R&B that had the whole venue dancing. Mars paid further homage to the “hardest working man in show business” when he busted out some of his dance moves during “Runaway.”
Also delivering some soul was Drake, whose set was highlighted by the smooth R&B of his engaging new single, “Hold On We’re Going Home.” But he upped the energy for the closing “Started From The Bottom,” getting everybody pumping their arms as they sang along to the hip-hop hit.
Rock saw representation by Phoenix and a grand set by Thirty Seconds To Mars that included a thoughtful, slow cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” and large drum circles on familiar songs like “City Of Angels.” Rock also showed up when Joan Jett made a surprise appearance in Kesha’s set for a duet on Jett’s muscular and frantically paced “Bad Reputation.” As strange as some of Kesha’s stage antics might have been, she was clearly having fun, and a finale that featured her, two people dressed as animals and a line of men dressed as Rocketts kicking up their heels brought out a lot of smiles in the crowd.
But Kesha’s set couldn’t match the surrealism of the fishnet-clad Miley Cyrus, who opened with “We Can’t Stop” in a setting reminiscent of a lewd and trippy Willy Wonka film, complete with dancing rainbows and twerking little people. She went on to close out her performance with “Wrecking Ball,” after giving that new single its live debut during her iHeart Village daytime set.