Review / photos: Jason Mraz gets easy, breezy and a little political, at 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre in Tampa
How does someone that spent the early 2000’s cutting his teeth on San Diego’s coffee shop circuit end up packing 20,000-seat outdoor sheds on a recession-era summer tour? If his name is Jason Mraz, then the answer lies in simply being his own goofy, relaxed self.
On Tuesday, the 35-year-old Mechanicsville, Va.-born songwriter arrived at a cool and breezy 1-800-Ask-Gary amphitheater on the fourth stop of a tour supporting his fourth major-label album, Love Is A Four Letter Word. Joining him were shrieking fans of all ages, races, and even genders.
Onstage, Mraz – who broke out thanks to a 2001 live disc recorded in a 140-capacity coffee house – delivered quizzical inquires for “Gary,” loads of booming vocals, and sing-alongs that would be labeled campy if it weren’t for the earnestness with which he delivered them and the passion that the crowd returned tenfold.
Mr. A-Z gets characterized as a ladykiller, and while women present ran the gamut from foot-tapping grandmothers to peace sign-waving, yelping teenagers, keepers of the Y-chromosome were not underrepresented. In fact, males ranging from pubescent high-schoolers to inebriated offensive lineman candidates shouted and swayed along to an 18-song set featuring cuts from every facet of Mraz’s 13-year-old discography.
His 2003 breakthrough single The Remedy (I Won't Worry) was pleasantly devoid of the arrangement-tampering that often accompanies tired hits, while even deeper cuts like Unfold from the aforementioned coffee house disc were peppered with sonic upgrades delivered by a band complete with horns, fiddle, keys and even Iranian percussionist Mona Tovakali.
One song (Frank D. Fixer) fell flat, but Mraz made up for it by sharing a candid and sincere rapport with his attentive spectators.
He was weary about returning to Tampa, since his last visit happened during election season just over four years ago, and while Mraz recently told tbt* that he’d prefer to stay on the “outer fringes of politics” during this cycle, the man did make good on a promise to “not hold back (while) remaining eloquent as possible” by posing a politically-charged question towards the amphitheater’s mythical “Gary.”
“If ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con’,” he quipped as he strapped on a ukulele mid-set, “is ‘progress’ the opposite of ‘congress’?’”
That sentiment garnered laughter from attendees, but his more direct probe regarding what it would take for “Florida to vote for Obama” was met with a mixture of pronounced boos and loud cheers.
That’s where the delight of a Jason Mraz set comes from. He possesses the playfulness of a youngster, yet pairs his seemingly insatiable thirst for a balanced and truthful life with all the charm of the most interesting man in the world.
His songs blatantly drop F-bombs on crowded concert venues (You Fckn Did It) and expose the imperfections of true companionship (The Woman I Love). His biggest hit (I’m Yours) happens to be a leftover demo field-tested on ancient European tours. Yet somehow, through utter honesty and unwavering sincerity, Mraz makes it work. Pop music is better for it, too.
Review/photos: Ray Roa, tbt*