Review: Jason Mraz brings mellow vibes to stripped down acoustic show

Jason Mraz may be, musically and in persona, the antithesis of a modern-day GRAMMY-winning pop star.

Mraz at an acoustic show earlier in the year / PC: Inquirer Lifestyle

While Mraz has charted several top 10 hits and multi-platinum albums, one would never know it from his recent solo acoustic performance at the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre in Morgantown, West Virginia.

The stripped-down, two-and-a-half hour set Saturday night featured acoustic rearrangements of some of his most popular (and obscure tracks), strung together with off-the-cuff freestyling and humor. While he had no band to back him up, he didn’t need it. Instead, the crystal-clear sound of his voice carried crisply through the venue much like an artist with his trusty guitar performing at a local coffee shop.

The stage looked familiar, like the audience was taking a peek into Mraz’s home. The musician walked out on stage with a harmonica around his neck and a guitar in his hands 15 minutes after the show was scheduled to start. Without so much as a word or a even a nod to the crowd, he put his mouth to his harmonica and began to play.

For his first song, Mraz cobbled together a partially-freestyled ditty meant as a warm-up, even singing “I just need to check my range for tonight,” and working up and down the musical scale while the audience chuckled.

After warming up, he joked with the audience a bit. If he wasn’t a musician, he could easily have a career in comedy: After every few songs, Mraz would take a moment to tell a story, a joke or maybe just make a play on words.

He told us about the time he grew his hair out and was mistaken for Kenny G at a silent auction. He talked about how breath brings life and had us all join him in taking some synchronized deep breaths so that “when people ask you how the concert was, you can say it was breathtaking.”

The night was filled with laughter, both from the audience and from Mraz as he chuckled at his own wit from time to time.

All jokes aside, the real artistry at the core of the show was his musical prowess. He played a couple songs at a keyboard and a couple with a guitar/harmonica combo. But for most of the performance, it was just Mraz and a guitar, and that’s where he really shines.

One of the biggest questions when going to a concert is always how good the act sounds live. As it turns out, Mraz sounds exactly the same on album as in person, smashing long notes out of the park. His voice carries a crisp and clear quality through the venue he’s playing, and he sings with incredible vocal control.

Whether scatting away in “I’m Yours” or singing opera in “Mr. Curiosity,” Mraz nailed nearly every note of the night. He only faltered once near the end of the show and stopped himself for a moment, saying “whoa, that was about to go sour,” before amusingly backing up a line and taking another crack at it.

He played the evening with such a carefree, laid-back and no-frills vibe that one couldn’t help but to be relaxed and just enjoy the moment. During all but a handful of his most popular tracks, the audience was silent, soaking in the vibes and letting Mraz take the show whichever way he pleased.

About three-quarters of the way through the show, he chuckled and mentioned how he didn’t really have a setlist to go by. He thought for a moment before deciding to play “93 Million Miles,” near the end of which, a fan yelled out for him to play “3 Things.”

When the applause died down, he mentioned that he hadn’t played “3 Things” in a while, so the audience would have to bear with him. Onstage, one could tell he was taking stock of what chords he’d need to play, but before long, he jumped into a great rendition of the fan favorite. He followed that up by “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” also by request. Both were solid gold, and completely on-the-fly.

Mraz gave no special treatment to one song or one album over another. He played “I’m Yours,” undoubtedly his biggest hit, only an hour into the show like he was about to sing just any other song. He plucked a few songs from each of his albums, plus a couple unreleased ones, and scattered them throughout the rest of the show.

He covered all the hits but also played a few, like two of my personal favorites, “Details in the Fabric” and “A Beautiful Mess,” that fans might not have expected to hear. In the end, the setlist was a near perfect mix of old and new, seeing as he had no new album to push. I left the concert completely satisfied that I’d heard every song I could’ve wished for, a rarity from an artist with five studio albums to his name.

Through the whole show, I felt calmed. At ease. Each chill and mellow track took me to my local coffee shop as I listened to a nobody; for all I knew, somebody who could’ve been anybody. That’s not to say the performance was generic or bland but to say that it made me feel at home.

Mraz’s success was built on the carefree vibe of songs like “I’m Yours,” and his recent acoustic performance injected that therapeutic feeling into two-and-a-half hours of music, as if he was back at Java Joe’s where he got his start.

There was no screaming or shouting, no thumping bass, no light show, no choreography, and not even an encore (all of which have their place at other concerts). There was just a man with a soft, soothing voice and a guitar, sipping his drink between deftly-played songs and inviting the audience to take a deep breath and relax.

And like a steaming hot cup of something smooth and sweet, it sure hit the spot.

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