The Spinners

Tonight Not Again: Live at Eagles Ballroom (Jason Mraz, 2004)

In Alternative Rock, American, Concert, Pop, Thor Balanon on February 4, 2010 at 6:00 am

Sexy scatting and swelling brass breathe new la-la-la-life to familiar songs. When Jason Mraz opens his mouth, people listen. Whether he’s gushing about robots, goofing around, or singing, we can’t help but listen. Especially when he sings. His music, which ranges from pop-rock to folk-jazz, is an acquired taste. Though singles like “The Remedy” and “Sleep All Day” show his knack for writing catchy choruses that effortlessly soar above standard radio fare, his other, more adventurous songs like the brooding “Tonight, Not Again” never got the attention it deserved. After getting a copy of his major record label debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, I dutifully rummaged for his back catalogue and wasn’t surprised to find a few self-produced live albums.

His live, acoustic set, recorded in 2001, brings forward the soulful side of Mraz. He breezes through his songs lazily; the scat rolls from his mouth like alcoholic honey. Most of the songs featured in the 2001 live disc didn’t make it to Waiting for My Rocket Come probably because of the meandering, jazz arrangements. But what the songs lacked in polish, Mraz’s performance made up for in spontaneity.

Tonight Not Again: Jason Mraz Live at the Eagles Ballroom is Mraz finally finding a seamless balance between his radio-friendly face and his image as a café jazz performer. The album opens with “Tonight, Not Again”, a slow, moody song on the consuming sadness of being alone that spirals downward to hushed desperation. It doesn’t seem like the smartest choice to begin an evening with but Mraz backs the minor chords with a gradually ascending horn section that simply lifts the song to a mocking celebration of isolation. From here on, everything familiar takes an unexpected— sometimes playful, sometimes ironic—turn. “You and I Both” becomes a laid-back acoustic number, while “Curbside Prophet” takes the bluesy alley, complete with a honky-tonk harmonica solo. The horn section takes center stage in “No Stopping Us”, making it a sweet day-in-the-park affair, but overdoes the mush. Mraz’s sexy scatting and lyric adlibs in the obligatory instrumental coda saves it from becoming a bland experiment. Chart-topper and sing-along favorite “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” gets extra boost from the ecstatic bursts of brass.

It is in his older songs where Mraz truly shines. “1000 Things” is a softly swaying jazz-lite where Mraz scats sweetly slippery. “Common Pleasure” is pure jazz classic with its puh-puh-playful wordplay and blaring trumpet solo. Where most songs are reinvented, he retains the fragile melancholy of “Unfold”. When he sings And the words retreat breathing histories into stories untold / And I unfold, there is a silence that could only mean everyone is listening.

There are also two new tracks, essential to any Mraz fan, included in this live set: the funky “Not So Usual” and the strangely cheery break-up song “No Doubling Back”. The clear throbbing and heavy breathing, not to mention the controlled screaming, that can be heard in the excellent live recording makes this record almost as good as being in a Jason Mraz concert. Almost. Watching Mraz in action, rollerblading across the stage, seeing those sleepy eyes smile, is priceless. For everything else, there’s Tonight Not Again: Jason Mraz Live at the Eagles Ballroom.

– Thor Balanon

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