Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mraz-Manila

This came out in the March issue of Pulp. What I didn't mention was my close encounter with Mraz in an elevator at Discovery Suites! That was pretty cool.

JASON MRAZ: LIVE IN MANILA

Almost exactly two years since his first visit to the Philippines, acoustic performer Jason Mraz came back for seconds to treat his Filipino fans to his distinct brand of jazz-pop music. Hot off the release of his sophomore effort Mr. A-Z, Mraz was warmly received at the Rockwell tent in Makati by a good-size crowd, who chose to see him on the first night of his two-night show over another visiting foreign act at the Araneta Coliseum.

"This is Toca Rivera, an original member of the Backstreet Boys," Jason said, introducing his long-time percussionist at the start of the show. The last time he was in the country, he played a solo acoustic show at Dish in Rockwell, and did a full-band set the next night at the Aliw Theater. Playing with a full band is alright, as is evident in his "Live at the Eagles Ballroom" CD released early last year, but I believe Jason's amazing natural vocal talent is better appreciated with an acoustic set, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was going to do just that this time on both nights, along with Puerto Rican-American cohort Toca playing the djembe and doing back-up vocals. (Toca was of course not without his beloved sidekick "Know-Me" the ceramic - or is it plastic? - gnome)

About an hour before the show, my friends and I had the pleasure of hanging out with Toca outside the venue. Obviously enjoying all the attention, he gamely posed for pictures with fans and chatted with us about everything from Jason's early days as a performer (they've been playing together now for close to ten years) to pick-up lines he just learned from a guy he met earlier. Heck I even joined him in singing a verse or two of Lionel Richie's "Stuck On You." He got so engrossed talking to us he almost forgot he had a show to get to that night.

Thankfully, he didn't forget. The show started with the country's own acoustic sensation Paolo Santos opening for Mraz and playing versions of classics such as Radiohead's "High and Dry" and his own songs from his two albums. Judging by the appreciative applause, there were a number of Santos's own fans inside the tent, but there was no denying who the crowd wanted to see and hear.

Thunderous applause and varying degrees of shrieks, howls and screams greeted Jason when he finally came out at around 9:30pm. Opening with the old hit "You and I Both," the audience sang along to every word, and it was like he never went away. He immediately followed that with three songs off "Mr. A-Z," the witty "Wordplay," fan favorite "Geek in the Pink" and a reworked, acoustic version of "Clockwatching," which, I would have to say sounded better than the album version. In between, he worked up the crowd by talking to them as if in a casual conversation with friends, joking with Toca and even jumping off the stage and taking a quick trip to the bathroom - in the middle of the show!

For the rest of the hour-and-half show, Mraz performed a mix of quiet, reflective songs such as "Unfold" and "After and Afternoon" and high-energy numbers that showed off his one-of-a-kind vocal and rapping/scatting abilities, including "The Remedy." At one point, Paolo Santos joined him and Toca onstage to do two lesser-known numbers, the dreamy love song "Sleeping To Dream" and "1000 Things," which Santos often covers in his own gigs. Both Mraz and Toca launched into the first verse of Richie's "Stuck on You," before segue-ing into another fan favorite, the kilometric yet highly-enjoyable ditty "Rand Mcnally."

He finished off the night with "Song For A Friend," which, during the presscon earlier that day, he admitted was the one song that closely describes the person that he is unknown to the public.

The next night, it was off to the NBC tent in Fort Bonifacio. Once again, Paolo Santos opened the show, and this time, he was a little more confident, even aggressive. Once he broke the ice by proudly proclaiming to the crowd, "Bakit, magaling din naman ako a!"

This time, Mraz opened his set with "Life is Wonderful," the first track from Mr. A-Z. After a couple of songs that he also did the previous night, Mraz and Toca launched into the highly-anticipated "Mr Curiosity," in which Mraz takes his vocal abilities to a whole other level - opera. Of course, I didn't expect operatic vocals of the Pavarotti kind, but his bit within the song was impressive nonetheless. In fact, I would go as far to say that he possesses one of the most powerful set of vocal pipes of any singer in any genre today outside of opera. And he certainly put it to good use that night.

After hearing screams of requests for some of his unreleased tracks, he finally gave in and sang two which he kept hearing for most of the night, "Zero Percent Interest" and a cover of the Elton John original, "Rocketman." Paolo Santos joined him once again onstage to do the same two songs they did the previous night. For a time, hordes of digital camera-wielding fans, mostly from the back row, swooped in and invaded the middle aisle to try and get a close-up shot of the self-confessed "Geek in the Pink," in effect blocking out the view for some of the audience sitting in front, but they were eventually whisked away back to their seats by stern security men. At least, cameras were allowed inside the venue; Aliw Theater wasn't as lenient the last time.

Unlike that gig in Aliw Theater, however, nobody got up to dance along to the last few songs, such as "Curbside Prophet," "No Stopping Us" and "Geek in the Pink." But when Mraz and Toca said goodnight, many DID stand up to voice their objection; it hardly felt like it was over and the audience was clearly clamoring for more. Mraz came back out to do "Plane," which was kind of a letdown because it was one of the more obscure songs in the current album; people were grateful nonetheless and gave him a standing ovation.

All in all, Mraz gave his Pinoy fans exactly the kind of show that he's known for, and it's the kind that he's obviously good at. It's pretty clear that Mraz is a born performer and I can only look forward at what he's got up his (pink) sleeves the next time he swings by our shores.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

greetz from holland....i was here en read youre blog.
SPION.
http://spion.punt.nl

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

8:41 PM  
Anonymous icezorg said...

very talented musician. he can sing, rap, scat, do opera, write sensible lyrics, compose songs... He is so underrated.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Ninja said...

he's back in the philippines! will watch his show later. im glad to find this blog post - thanks a mill!

3:17 PM  

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