US singer-songwriter Jason Mraz performs Saturday at the Rainbow Festival in Nami Island, 70km northeast of Seoul. His latest world tour “Tour Is A Four Letter Word” began Friday in Busan and ends in London on Dec. 1.
By Kwaak Je-yup
Most of the 20,000 people attending the Rainbow Festival Saturday seemed to have come expressly for Jason Mraz, looking at the audience flow before and after. And the American singer-songwriter did not disappoint, treating the audience packing Nami Island, 70 kilometers east of Seoul, to an unforgettable performance.
In an era where many live concerts increasingly resemble music video taping sessions — carefully calibrated with no room for improvisation — Mraz’s two-hour gig bucked the trend to great effect. There was a constant sense of unpredictability even in this pre-fixed set list; his melisma kept everyone in the house on the tip of their toes, waiting to hear where his versatile voice would transport them next.
That is why Mraz’s songs are infinitely better live. Whether his often saccharine lyrics are to your taste or not, you have to accept that he is a fantastic interpreter of music.
On this second night of his “Tour Is A Four Letter Word” world tour, after the first stop in Busan Friday, he proved that once again.
He could dwell a split second longer on a note than written or sing a discordant note; there was magic happening at every turn.
His enviable vocal pipes seemed to hit every note with uncanny effortlessness. The heavily rearranged, slower rendition of “You and I Both,” the hit from his debut album “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” (2002), was the strongest proof of his singing capacity.
Furthermore, his carefree persona was infectious, right from the openers from his latest release “Love Is A Four Letter Word” (2012), “Everything Is Sound” and “Freedom Song (Life Is Good).”
“I Won’t Give Up,” the new album’s lead single, was hauntingly beautiful. His voice was in top form until the last song, the inevitable finale “I’m Yours,” his biggest hit to date.
At times one could mistake the experience as watching a coloratura soprano sing an aria, with the audience so intently listening to every note flowing out of Mraz’s mouth. He had the flair, the energy and charisma of an opera star.
His band was more than competent. The charming chemistry that the singer had had with recording artist Colbie Caillat on the hit duet “Lucky” was given a refreshing new twist by a stand-in female vocalist.
The absence of longtime music-making partner Noel “Toca” Rivera, who has left to pursue an independent project, was occasionally felt, though, especially for those who have previously been to a Mraz concert.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the festival made some questionable logistical choices for the weekend. Nearly half the people gathered at the main stage were seated behind the sound engineers’ box and a giant screen. They almost completely obstructed the view.
To add to the woes, the sound, while superb in the front speakers, was too dry in the back. Many people in the rear section, who were left to sit in between or behind trees, not only stretched their necks to get a glimpse of the star but also plugged their ears at times.
Moreover, the scenic island location may be romantic, but traffic to and from the venue was a nightmare. Thousands of people started leaving before Mraz’s set was over to avoid the rush. There is nothing more distracting for a performer than seeing the audience leave bit by bit.
Finally, one of the country’s most creative bands today, The Idiotape, was unfortunately served with a concurrent time slot with Mraz. It robbed them of the well-deserved opportunity to shine.
The festival has outgrown the tiny privately-owned island; the time is ripe to rethink the venue choice.
Mraz’s “Tour Is A Four Letter Word — 2012 World Tour” heads to Beijing’s Workers’ Gymnasium next, on Tuesday. It will continue to other locations in Asia, the United States and Europe before wrapping up at the O2 Arena in London in December.
Everything Is Sound
Freedom Song (Life Is Good)
Life is Wonderful
Make It Mine
The Woman I Love
You and I Both
Frank D. Fixer
Curbside Prophet/The Remedy
Bella Luna/Geek in the Pink
I’m Coming Over
Dynamo of Volition
93 Million Miles
I Won’t Give Up
Living in the Moment