By BRUCE DENNILL
Jason Mraz and Raining Jane / Teatro, Montecasino / 26 February 2015
With little or no publicity, Jason Mraz sold out two nights at the 1 870-seater Teatro in Fourways, a phenomenon those only peripherally aware of the singer-songwriter might have struggled to understand.
His record speaks louder than a poster would, though. Six Grammy nominations, two wins and over 5,5 million Twitter followers speak to his influence and the regard in which he is held, both by in the music industry and in the hippy environmental circles in which Mraz moves (doing a lot of good, incidentally, for people who have lost their farms, among other things). And that’s not even considering the reach of hit singles such as The Remedy, I’m Yours and Lucky.
Still, all of that would still generally make for a good show; a solid package put together by a professional who understands how the game works.
But three things make Mraz’s current tour several steps above merely “good”.
The first is his choice of backing band/musical collaborators. Raining Jane is a four-piece folk-rock band (cellist Mai Bloomfield was sadly absent for the South African leg of the tour due to a family emergency) were, for most locals, an unknown entity. That lack of profile meant, however, that if Chaska Potter (vocals, guitar, ukulele, keyboards), Mona Tavakoli (drums, percussion, vocals) and Becky Gebhardt were even half-decent, they’d make some sort of impression on the crowd.
How fantastic, then, that they not only matched Mraz for musicality (not a statement made lightly – though his style is generally understated, he’s an immensely gifted vocalist and guitarist) but complemented him to such a degree that as a unit, Jason and Jane (a smart hashtag used by their fans) are as effective as the Dixie Chicks, with a little tongue-in-cheek Boys II Men thrown in, onstage. Harmonies are perfectly pitched and tightly rehearsed and a range of instruments are played with precision. The impact is such that a good portion of this tour’s audiences will remain keen followers of the quartet once they go their own way again and leave Mraz to his solo thing.
The second major strength of the set is the arrangements of the songs. Mraz’s work is already fairly technically advanced, with his use of jazzy time signatures, quick-fire sing-rapped lyrics and colourful melodic textures already evident in his carefully produced studio work. For this tour – possibly because there’s a focus on theatres and similarly intimate spaces rather than big, open arenas – those songs, and there are a surprising number of them – are extended and reconceived to allow Mraz and his cohorts to exercise their creativity in a way that confounds onlookers, leaving them babbling incoherently to each other about what they’ve just seen, so difficult is it to find superlatives that define both enjoyment of great technique and the soul-fed exultation that the music engenders.
The third skill that Mraz has developed – he’s a master now – is his stagecraft; the way he presents his work, philosophy and personality to the crowd and then weaves his stories into his and Raining Jane’s playing and movement around the stage. It looks effortless, but if it was, every artist would do it, and more concerts would be this good. Which, in short, they aren’t.
Mraz’s be-kind-to-all, support-the-downtrodden will feel alien to many of his fans, arriving at the venue after 10 hours in the office and his songs, while recognisable as the sonic fabric of the last few years, are not mainstream anthems. But, with a little help from his friends, he’s devised a package that will make enthusiastic converts of neutrals and ensure that those who were were already committed fans have ammunition for a serious argument about this show being a necessary addition to the bucket list of anyone unable to get tickets for this tour.