Jason Mraz

Count Basie Theater, Red Bank, NJ

Jason Mraz Review
Count Basie Theater - Red Bank, NJ - 11/28/18
Review & Photos - Rebecca Wolf

Jason Mraz appears to be somewhat of an enigma. With his signature cap perched atop his head, a smirky grin, and his laid back demeanor, all while reading haikus to his audience (frequently about “poop”), singing silly ditties, and displaying his beautiful vocal abilities, it’s hard to get a sense of who Jason Mraz really is.  He’s not the consummate rock star, who fills the stage with boundless energy and the theater with excitement. Nor is Mraz the effusive, bubbly performer who seems completely at home on stage and comfortable “chatting up” the audience. Although there’s definitely a sweet silliness to Mraz, as evidenced by his delight in reading the humorous haikus to the amused crowd, and performing “illusions” with comedian/singer/band videographer and decades-long friend, Billy Galewood, there also seems to be a somewhat reserved, “tethered” side to Mraz. It’s as if something inside is holding him back and he’s  saying, “I’ll open myself up just this much, only this far, but I can’t go any further.”  

Maybe the “holding back” is connected to Mraz’s self description, which he shared with the audience, along with his personal life lesson. While strumming his guitar, Mraz expressed, “I’m sour, insecure, paranoid and miserable. When I’m not doing this I’m all of those things, so I had to get a hobby! I realized if I can’t do me, maybe I can help someone do them. My suggestion to you is, if you can’t do you, then help someone do them! And, in doing so you might find you”. Those words might have gone unnoticed by many in the crowd, or others might have thought he was saying them in jest. However, I sensed those words had significant meaning to Mraz. Thankfully for Mraz, he discovered his musical talents and has thus been able to channel his feelings in a positive direction, which his thankful fans have been lucky enough to enjoy.

Mraz began performing musical theater in HS productions in Virginia. Following graduation, he began drama school in NYC, with the intention of continuing in theater. However, after learning to play guitar he ultimately ended up in San Diego in 1999, at 22 years old, and began playing in local coffee houses. It was in one of these coffee houses where he met percussionist Toca Rivera, who continues to play with him on tour today.  Mraz released his first major label debut album, Waiting For My Rocket to Come, in 2002, with his first top 10 single, “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)”. July 2005 was the release of Mraz’s 2nd major label album, Mr. A-Z, which earned Grammy nominations for Best Engineered, Non-Classical album. 

However, it was the release of his 3rd studio album in 2008, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., that broke into the top 10 on many international charts, reaching # 3 in the US. The lead song, “I’m Yours”, was Mraz’s first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the chart for 76 weeks. In 2010, Mraz won Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Collaboration.  Mraz’s 2012 studio album, Love Is a Four Letter Word, reached # 2 on the Billboard 200. The lead single, “I Won’t Give Up”, debuted at # 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.  During that year he played sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden and the O2 in London. Mraz’s first acoustic album, Yes!, was released in 2014 and in August 2018, after performing in the Broadway musical Waitress, Mraz released his 6th studio album, Know. He’s described this latest album as bright, classic-sounding pop, with positive lyrics and love songs.

At the Count Basie Theater on November 28th, fans were obviously delighted to be sharing the night with Mraz. When he entered the stage to the applause of the packed theater, Mraz asked if anyone had been at his performance the previous night (at Count Basie), to which he received cheers from a large section of the crowd.  Throughout the evening, in the gaps between songs, “We love you Jason”, was often shouted towards the stage. Mraz never responded verbally but the slightly embarrassed grin on his face was evident.    
At the start of the show, Mraz was accompanied on stage by fellow guitarist/singer/songwriter, Gregory Page.  Page, a folk musician, is a longtime musical partner of Mraz, and has been described by Mraz as, “a rare gift”. Page has played with Bob Dylan and John Prime, has released solo albums, written books of poetry and produced short films. After one song together, Mraz exited the stage and the audience had the privilege of being entertained by the warm, soothing voice and enthusiasm of Page. As Page finished his 20 minute set, I was left wondering why I’d never heard of this man and his music before…he was that good. 

Upon returning to the stage Mraz was accompanied by a second musician, the percussionist and vocalist, whom Mraz has been playing music with since this start in San Diego. Toca Rivera plays the djembe drum, and the rhythmic sounds he produces from one drum are impressive. Rivera and his drum beats added a rich depth to the music…another layer to the sound. His hand movements atop the drum brought different tones to the beats. I was fascinated watching Rivera. With his long dreadlocks, brimmed hat, and Lennon-like sunglasses, he carried himself with an air of cool confidence. Rivera showed obvious joy in performing and the connection between Rivera and Mraz was undeniable.

Throughout the evening Page and/or Rivera periodically left the stage, allowing Mraz to play with one or the other or neither, resulting in a different sound and feel to different songs. Joining them onstage for a song/comedy routine during the first set, was the band’s videographer, Billy Galewood, himself a comedian, singer-songwriter and  rapper. It was immediately evident that Galewood, formally known by the stage name Bushwalla,  is a performer. His facial expressions and body movements added humor and levity to the stage, bringing that out in Mraz, his friend for more than 20 years. Watching Galewood ’s energy and spirit you couldn’t help but be energized as well. 

With haiku readings during the first set (and audience members shouting for more), as well as the comedy routine, there was less opportunity for Mraz to showcase his music. It wasn’t until I overheard a couple audience members voicing their desire to hear more singing, that I too realized that although we were being entertained, it was less so by Mraz’s beautiful singing. Luckily, good things come to those who wait. The evening’s second set was all Mraz’s music. Mraz’s voice remains seemingly unchanged and flowed as melodically as in his early days. While Mraz continued to have a bit of a reserved nature, he definitely appeared more comfortable in his skin while immersing himself in his catalogue of songs. The audience was equally as excited, and cheered and sang along throughout the remainder of the evening. As the night came to a close, Galewood rejoined the musicians on stage to sing and dance, along  with the audience to “Might as Well Dance”. Galewood, the performer he is, definitely danced! 

It has been almost 20 years since Mraz crossed the country from Virginia to California. The boy who played Snoopy in HS has filled arenas in NYC, LA, and London. He’s had Billboard hits, and won Grammy Awards. Hopefully at some point he will feel more successful at “doing him”.  In the meantime, he’s definitely helped plenty of his fans “do them”.
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