Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Frazzled Troubadour

Here's the thing, I don't really get out much nowadays with work and my part-time job teaching, so on the rare occasion that I do manage to catch a concert, watch a play or attend a ballet, I only go out of my way to see something that I'm inexplicably drawn to, really interested in or feel strongly about. So when I heard that Manila was going to be the first stop of Jason Mraz's "A Grateful Journey Tour", I immediately marked the date on my calendar and rushed to buy reserved seats [the cheapest kind, mind you]; all prepared for a night where I'll just let myself be swept away by the music, like driftwood caught in a rolling wave. Lol x).

Giddy with anticipation, I marched right down to Cubao to see Mr-AZ perform live on stage even though I wasn't really sold on the idea of an "acoustic night" with just him and Toca Rivera in the Big Dome. There was no doubt in my mind that a lot of people would show up that night, it just didn't strike me as the kind of place for two musicians to serenade a crowd. After all, the Smart Coliseum is the venue for sporting events and major concerts, you know, big extravaganzas with a band, back-up dancers, costume changes, and whatnot. That being said, I certainly didn't want to miss out on this event given that I already missed his 2006 appearance over at the NBC Tent.
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I first saw Jason Mraz and his band perform in 2004 at the Aliw Theater and had a blast because he really knew how to work a crowd. He might have come off a little too eager to please and a tad pretentious, but wouldn't you know it, the boy can a lark...[or a rooster, if you want to humor him].

And sing he did.

And about a decade later since his debut, this self-confessed redneck eventually gained international success in the form of a simple, hum-worthy, fruity song that rode the airwaves from continental Europe to the white sandy beaches of the Orient. "I'm Yours" was played on the radio to  mind-numbing repetition, it can be heard in coffee shops and street stalls, to the point that it almost rivaled Maroon 5's sickeningly overplayed first single, "This Love". More importantly, this track gained him a lot of fans, enough to fill up a coliseum, most, obviously big fans of the third album, which would explain why a good number of them were donning what would pass off as a straw castor fedora in late October. Go figure.

I have victory for my art and a great loss for my heart.

I wish I could say that I loved "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things" but for some reason I couldn't listen to it the way I could with his 2001 "Live at Java Joe's" release or even sing along to it like I did with most of the songs in his debut album. I've seen Jason Mraz through his assortment of hats and at one time was even crazy enough to pre-order his live albums but a diehard fan of his, I am not.

"Waiting for my Rocket to Come" will always have a place in my heart, God knows how many times I've listened to that cassette tape in my mother's Toyota while driving to and from law school. You might say that my interest in him has ebbed somewhat throughout the years, but I still have great respect for the power and positivity brought about by his music. It might not exactly be my cup of tea anymore but I say as long as they reach people and make them believe in a better, brighter world (even for a minute), then so be it. Parapaps and ladidas never hurt anybody.

I haven't looked him up for years---it's been a while since I read his blog, haven't had the time to watch his videos on Youtube and couldn't give a damn about the latest gossip on who he's dating or broken up with. I don't have a facebook or twitter account and frankly, I wasn't quite sure what to make of his island-hopper boy persona in 2008 which just fueled further criticism of his brand of faux reggae. Somebody warned me earlier about his latest grunge look but nothing really prepared me for this hippie, peace and love, tree-hugging, scraggly-haired, barefoot dude that came out on stage that night. Okay, I know there's more to a person than his looks but this was downright ridiculous. He looked like he was auditioning for the sequel to Jodorowsky's La Montaña Sagrada (count yourself lucky if you haven't seen this film)...think George Harrison during The Beatles' Hare Krishna days, albeit in eco-friendly apparel. A far cry from freshness factor five thousand, if you know what I mean.

It's not like I expected him to remain the same after all these years. Artists, or in this case musicians, do have a way of evolving along with their music. They experiment, they grow, they dabble;  and in the course of finding their voice, some reinvent themselves, pick up a cause and make it their crusade. Jason Mraz claims to have taken great strides in elevating his art, he also claims to have never been more comfortable in his own skin but to me, he looks a little worse for wear, someone who's retreated within himself, his music.

I used to think of John Mayer as the guitar virtuoso and Mraz as the verbose songwriter. Anyone would agree that it's no easy feat to make use of the words lugubrious and unencumbered as song lyrics but that was his thing, it made him unique. With the exception of "I'm Yours", "Lucky" and "A Beautiful Mess", the songs from his third album have a complex yet manufactured quality; there's certainly more thought to the arrangement and the melody but they can sound overly done and a bit exasperating, as if powered by a runaway locomotive. The new batch of songs on the other hand have a stripped down, acoustic, back-to-basics vibe which is fine but I still miss the old Jason. I miss the cocky and cheeky Jason who used to muse about random things, from how flossing is supposed to be good for the heart and how the beauty of the moon is essentially borrowed light. He used to be fun, blithe and very convincing at being carefree. But people do grow up. And while I somewhat understand the creative process---how each song is personal and singularly special---there will always come a point wherein once that composition is out there, it ceases to be yours. It's the duality that haunts every form of self-expression, such that no piece of music, literature or art can stand on its own without public recognition.

Songs are meant to be shared and concerts are pretty much a place where people gather as a community to enjoy the same type of music. I guess what I'm trying to say is that what really threw me off during the last Jason Mraz concert was not so much the physical transformation but the fact that I felt like I was being tuned out. Sure, maybe he was overwhelmed by the crowd, maybe he was tired of the cacophonous adoration, or maybe he expected a different event altogether but that doesn't mean that he can just dive into his music and unwittingly drown out the crowd. The man was so into his music that for a while there, I was convinced that it didn't matter whether or not his audience understood or enjoyed where he was at. A friend of mine once commented that Jason Mraz was the kind of artist who secretly disdained having his songs sung right back at him....I'm starting to believe it's true. For the most part, he just launched into one song after another, totally oblivious of how the people would react. The funny thing is that I don't think anyone noticed or even suspected the frayed link, the near absence of that magical connection that exists between a singer and his listeners. Yes, I still think he sounds great live and no one can complain about the set list that was played that night. Mr. Toca Rivera was amazing as usual and I can even acknowledge Jason's attempt to salvage the rest of the evening and commend him for speaking up against human exploitation and trafficking but something about that concert just didn't feel right. 

Pretty pictures from the concert care of the good folks from the Manila Concert Scene and Dayly Entertainment. 


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