Around the turn of the millennium, Jason Mraz spent his early days as a musician honing his craft at a coffee house in San Diego, California.
For three years, Mraz played twice a week at Java Joe’s, a small establishment that produced other big artistes before him such as Foolish Games hitmaker Jewel. Mraz created a safe, intimate environment for a crowd nursing their wounds over a cup of coffee or simply stopping by for a bite.
These days, Mraz doesn’t play in coffee houses anymore. Try stadiums.
On Monday night, the American singer-songwriter played at Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil.
A lot has happened since his Java Joe’s stint. He landed a record deal and released his 2002 debut album Waiting For My Rocket To Come. The album, fuelled by hits like I Won’t Worry (The Remedy) and You And I Both, launched his career. He went on to score a string of international hits I’m Yours and Lucky as well as two Grammys, cementing his place in pop music.
Despite the fact that Mraz was playing to over 7,000 Malaysian fans, Mraz’s KL concert felt just as cozy as the coffee house he got his start at – maybe one giant coffee house, if you will.
And this was palpable right from the get-go. When Mraz first appeared on stage, there was no spectacle or fanfare.
The 41-year-old simply walked to the microphone at the centre of the stage with a guitar in hand, as if he was headed for just another open-mic session all those years ago and not as the international star he has become.
Lit by a spotlight on an otherwise dark stage, Mraz sang the searing ballad You And I Both. His voice is just as crisp and clear as his recordings but with a lot more power and gusto (more on that later).
Now joined by a full band (which includes the all-female folk-rock quartet, Raining Jane), he launched into a dreamy ballad perfect for slow dancing with your lover to, Let’s See What The Night Can Do off his latest 2018 album Know. (Read our review here)
“The album is a collection of love letters I wrote to my wife,” Mraz, who got married three years ago, shared during a separate interview session earlier in the day.
“I initially wrote about 120 to 130 songs for the album about different things that were happening in the United States but in the end, what felt the most timeless and classic was my love for my wife.”
Indeed, quite a number of lovey-dovey material from his new album soon followed, notably, More Than Friends, which talks about two best friends taking a shot at a romantic relationship.
Then of course, there’s the uptempo, glass-half-full tunes Mraz is known for. He let in plenty of sunshine with Living In The Moment and the worry-busting I Won’t Worry (The Remedy).
As his jaunty tunes has helped listeners pull through tough times, Mraz shares a song that got him through his own tough time: “Every song I’ve written has gotten me through tough times. More recently, it’s Love Is Still The Answer. It was written right after the US elections three years ago.
“That was a tough time for many people. And I thought, ‘What do I do as a songwriter? How do I react to that?’. “To me, love is still the answer. If I can show up somewhere and (spread love through music), then I can help healing happen.
“But that has to happen within me first. So when I sit down with an instrument, I’m really trying to cheer myself up. Every song I write is designed to make myself feel better. And if it works, then I’ll take it to the stage.”
When it came to Mraz’s signature hits, I’m Yours, Lucky and I Won’t Give Up, he makes efforts to improvise and make the songs he has probably performed a thousand times before sound brand new.
One such instance was the last note of I Won’t Give Up, which he belted from the top of his lungs and held for an impossibly long duration of time.
As Mraz’s music always conveyed a laid back, island vibe, he didn’t strike me as a belter. Interestingly, throughout the concert, Mraz performed so many vocal acrobatics.
Audiences who were already mesmerised by his voice in his recordings definitely got more than they bargained for hearing his voice live.
All through the show, there was a sense that Mraz was still very much true to his coffeehouse music roots. Musically, the show was chock-full of beautiful vocal harmonies besides employing a wide array of acoustic instruments courtesy of Raining Jane.
Mraz also spoke as though it was a crowd of only 17 before him, not 7,000. He shared personal details about himself including a random fact about the colourful jumpsuit he wore that felt a little snug that night (“My mother-in-law took in the jumpsuit a little too much,” he offered).
But mostly, he talked about the experiences that inspired his songs; 93 Million Miles was written as a way to thank his parents for supporting his music dreams and Details In The Fabric, to cheer up a friend who was having a bad day.
Mraz checked in with his audience from time to time, encouraging us to sing and dance along and even told us to high-five each other.
Spanning two full hours, the concert felt relaxed and unhurried. It doesn’t happen often with international acts where things move along quickly.
Then again, Mraz probably didn’t see it that way. He saw one giant coffee house and we, his regular patrons.