We sang. We danced.

Let me tell you about you about the first time I saw or heard Jason Mraz

I figure it was sometime in early 2003, on David Letterman. I remember him wearing a white T-shirt and cock-eyed red trucker’s hat, and I'm thinking, Who the heck is this kid? He started in on his guitar, singing this sort of melodic rap. Then he got into this cool chorus and my ears perked up. I thought then, Hey, this guy’s pretty good … A couple weeks later, that song, “The Remedy,” was all over the radio …

Jason Mraz - The Remedy(Letterman) - Click here for funny video clips

I eventually acquired his “Waiting For My Rocket to Come” and “Mr. A-Z” albums … And last night, I got to see him live and in person. Knock another one off my mental list of singer/songwriters and musicians I’d love to see before I die … If only I could just get to a Matchbox Twenty show!
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In anticipation of last night’s show, I picked up a copy of Mraz’s latest, “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things” -- a limited edition deluxe package! I popped it into my CD player as soon as I returned to my car and immediately I was hooked. The heavy use of horns was something I wasn’t used to hearing from him. The songs fuse Latin, Raggae and even gospel. Plus, I was struck by the spiritual nature in almost every song; Mraz references things like angels singing, pictures of Jesus and righteous living.

Walking up to The Rave last night, there was a good buzz in the atmosphere I hadn’t felt there before. Maybe it was just the 25-degree air freezing our blood vessels, I don’t know …

The Mraz show was in the ballroom, which was a new experience for me. All the shows I’ve seen previously at The Rave have been downstairs … But the oval-shaped ballroom -- I couldn’t keep from marveling at the expansive space (It had to be the size of a football-field), the hardwood floor, the art-deco design, the raised ceiling. I couldn’t stop picturing a World War II-era group of sailors dancing with their girlfriends to the sounds of a big band.

Lisa Hannigan opened for Mraz. She sounded good, but no one could understand a thing she was singing, or saying, beyond the distorted sound of her band. That and the crowd didn’t stop yapping throughout her set …

She breezed through nine songs, finally rocking out a little bit on the last one … Although I couldn’t tell you what song it was because, again, I couldn’t understand a word she was singing.

It was too bad we didn’t get more from her. I wanted to like her.

Between sets, our entertainment was a wide screen on the stage displaying snapshots and text messages being sent from the crowd’s cell phones. The older residents of the crowd couldn’t seem to resist poking fun at the extreme number of teenie boppers in the crowd. Multiple texters suggested their moms take them to a Hannah Montana show instead. But I think I got the biggest kick out of a text that read:

“If the only Mraz song you know is ‘I’m Yours,’ leave now. I’m serious.”
Clearly, last night’s audience knew more than “I’m Yours.”

Mr. Mraz made his entrance about 8:45 p.m. He was introduced with a video of him and his band jamming backstage and covering a myriad of pop songs. Then a message flashed across the screen that read “Welcome to the show … Thank you for coming … Please sing and dance during the show … Yours truly … Jason Mraz.” The words “Fond of …” were illuminated on the screen and a slew of words began flashing faster than you could comprehend most of them. At one point, I did catch “Barack Obama,” whose name has come up a few times at concerts I’ve attended lately

Finally, a giant picture of the Earth appeared on the large screen and Mraz stepped to center stage. His backing band included a drummer, a percussionist who also sang backing vocals, a keyboard player, a three-piece horn section and a bass player who I couldn’t get past the idea that he looked like a young Peter Gammons with young John McEnroe’s curly hair.

As I’d anticipated, he launched the set with “Make it Mine,” the opener on the new album. And the horns soared … Then he served up “Only Human,” “Clockwatching” and a spot-on cover of Steely Dan‘s “Peg.” Very cool.

On “If It Kills Me” the crowd hung on every word and nearly drowned Mraz‘s voice … Since seeing Dashboard Confessional a couple years ago, that show has been my benchmark for the loudest singing crowd. Last night’s crowd might have beaten that … The graphic effects on the big screen behind Mraz also added to the entertainment last night, too. During the coda on “If It Kills Me,” a roughly drawn tank moved across the screen before exploding into a ball of little hearts.

Song No. 6 was “Love For a Child,” which Mraz introduced as “a holiday song.” … I caught the word “pretty” entering my mind a lot to describe some of the Mraz’s songs last night. This was one of those times …

Song No. 7 was the anthemic “The Remedy,” a little earlier than I expected, but fantastic, nonetheless. Easily, the highlight of the show … Every time the chorus came around, Mraz barely bothered singing, letting the audience carry it instead. Animated fireworks exploded on the screen behind him, and the horns went off on a good jam toward the end as strobe lights flashed. For one more round of the chorus, Mraz crossed the audience’s singing with the first verse of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Again, very cool.

Then he slowed things waaaaaay down with “Bella Luna” and another pretty one, “A Beautiful Mess.”

He got the crowd singing again on “Live High” … For this one, the screen took on a background of stained-glass windows. And during the second verse a pair of Barack Obama faces appeared on the screen , which of course drew loud cheers from the young crowd; it struck me after a few seconds that those images of Obama were set within the stained glass windows and he was taking on a Jesus-looking-to-the-heavens pose … In the meantime, nobody seemed to notice the horn section had disappeared from the stage -- until they showed up for the second half of the song, blasting their instruments from atop the balcony behind us. Another very cool moment.

Next up, Mraz played “The Dynamo of Volition,” a fun crowd-interaction number that had the crowd raising high fives during the chorus (“gimme gimme that high five good time”) … During his introduction of the song, Mraz had encouraged us to look like we were having a good time because the show was being videotaped, and he was taking the tape home to Grandma for Thanksgiving.

Finally, he brought out “I’m Yours” … The band started it with some blissful harmonies, and Mraz performed the first verse acoustically while ocean waves played out on the big screen … He closed out the song with a call-and-answer session that had him giving the crowd some funny tongue-twirling sounds to mimic, like the kind you do to warm up your voice at choir rehearsal. Then, Mraz got the crowd chanting a sweet, melodic “every little thing is gonna be all right” to end it.

Now for the encore …

In the same realm as the loud singing, it also might have been the most electric pre-encore intermission I’ve ever been part of … The crowd started beating their feet on the floor like a virtual drum roll, while the strobe lights flashed like crazy. And the cheers were deafening.

Mraz returned to the stage with just his percussionist and they performed “After an Afternoon.”

Then, the percussionist left and Mraz invited Lisa Hannigan back to the stage. You knew then “Lucky” -- the playful, romantic tune Mraz sings with Colbie Caliet on his album -- would be next. The song has quickly become my favorite on the new album, and it sounded as good live.

Mraz ended the night with the full band rejoining him for a medley of “No Stopping Us” and “Butterfly,” during which he shot Polaroids of the band members and Frisbee’d the photos into the crowd, where they surely got stomped, crumpled and torn to bits.

I left the place satisfied, thinking if I had to grade the show, I’d give it a B+.

I also left the place thinking Jason Mraz is one heckuva performer. He’s a cool cat with one smooth voice.

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