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JAZZED ABOUT MRAZ Jason Mraz makes it all look so easy. The


Southern man turned surfer dude has built a devoted following with easy-breezy pop tunes that sound as though they came to him in a stream of mellow consciousness. On stage, he can make a theater feel as intimate as an evening at the coffeehouse, or as rousing as pep rally. But looks can be deceiving. Mraz, an uber-


fit 33, will bring his hits—and some new songs—to Utica’s Stanley Theatre on Mon- day, Sept. 13. He says being on stage these days is a workout. “I’ve never taken a Pilates class, but I


imagine that’s what a Pilates class would feel like,” Mraz jokes during a quick phone chat. “I do 45 minutes to an hour of yoga before a show with the large band.” Mraz’s long tour in support of his 2008


release, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things (Atlantic), has him fronting a large ensemble—complete with horn section and syncopated dance moves. Mraz, who launched his career performing in the coffeehouses of Southern California, admits it is a world away from the days when it was just him, a guitar and maybe a stool. “For me, that’s the real test of a good song,”


Mraz, a two-time Grammy winner, says. “It should connect as effectively with just the acoustic guitar. I dream in acoustic, so I always do some songs with just the acoustic guitar on stage. But the big band is a lot of fun.” Mraz’s sound has expanded since the


release of his 2002 debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come (Elektra), and now incorpo- rates jazz, reggae and Brazilian influences. He’s been working on new songs, and Mraz says they reflect an even broader world view. In addition to working withMartin Terefe, who produced We Sing … in London, and chillin’ with songwriting pals at his home near San Diego, Mraz spent time in Brazil last winter to absorb the unique rhythms and styl- ings of that country’s native musicians. The trip resulted in a collaboration with guitarist Milton Nascimento. “Right away, my fingers started to go to


different places on the freeboard,” Mraz says of his time in Brazil, adding that Brazilian musicians are far less likely to rely on the basic “cowboy chords” that form the basis of a lot of American pop music. “I did not know a bit of Portuguese, but we really formed a musi- cal bond. We became somewhat like spiritual brothers. We wrote a couple of songs together.” Mraz’s upcoming release (still untitled, but


expect a positive moniker) may also include a collaboration with one of the ultimate “cowboy” songwriters,Willie Nelson. Mraz met the music legend last winter and plans to appear with Nelson at his annual Farm Aid concert next spring. Lyrically, Mraz says his new songs reflect


his desire to “live a positive life.” He has increased his commitment to charitable causes this year, and recently visited the Gulf Coast to get a firsthand perspective of the troubles that resulted from last spring’s oil disaster. Mraz says he is more committed than ever to being a vehicle for optimism—describing his new lyrics as “positive articulation.”


WWW.SYRACUSENEWTIMES.COM But even those good vibes need some


coaxing. Hits “I’m Yours” and “Lucky” may sound effortless, but Mraz figures for every catchy gem like those, there are another 100 that are rather less inspiring. “Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got right away,” Mraz notes. “So I never take the process for granted.” At this point in his career, Mraz says it is


important to keep his audience—and him- self—on their toes. The concert set has to be a careful balance of the expected, and the unexpected. “You have to stay connected with the time as well as with the material,” he says. “So if I get tired of a song, I’ll retire it.” But no worries—he’s always happy to play


his hits. He admits that he’s humbled when people tell him how uplifting songs like “I’m Yours” and “Lucky” are. “These are songs I’m really happy playing,” he says. Mraz has finally achieved a comfort-


able, organic balance between his career, his personal life and his commitments to the causes he believes in; he is a passionate environmental activist and vocal advocate for equal rights for gay, lesbian and trans- gender couples. “Everything goes hand in hand—it’s all about communication,” he says. “At this point, I do feel a great balance and a sense of completion with a specific phase in my life.” Mraz says the Utica show, and the others


on this short 22-date tour, will incorporate lots of new elements. In addition to new songs, Mraz will be playing with several new band members, and plans to try out a new light show made from recycled materials. “New show, new band, new songs,” he explains. “It’s a new beginning.”


Jason Mraz: Rocking Utica’s Stanley Theatre on Monday.


Catch Jason Mraz with special guest Rob-


ert Francis at the Stanley Performing Arts Center, 259 Genesee St., Utica on Sept. 13 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $51.50. For more infor- mation, visit www.ticketmaster.com. —TAMMY DIDOMENICO


COUNTRY REWIND


AT THE FAIR Maybe you heard that a really top-notch,


mixed-gender vocal group put on an exciting and well-received concert of contemporary country at the New York State Fair’s Chevy Court last week. No, not them. The quartet Little Big Town was a force in delivering 80 minutes of strong harmonies with style and passion during their 8 p.m. set on Sept. 2. They weren’t the best-known country-flavored pop act to play the court in the Fair’s second week as the exploding popularity of Lady Antebellum drew one of the biggest crowds ever to play there the previous night, but Little Big Town is no consolation prize. In all fairness, it’s hard to compare the two


acts as Lady A was likely heard and seen by about a fourth of the fans who came out for their evening show on Sept. 1. Chevy Court is simply not up to the task of accommodating a crowd that size, so many of the fans who stretched out to the State Parks buildings at the far end and up to the colonnade and the Center of Progress Building on the sides, couldn’t really hear well, had no view to speak of and many couldn’t even see the too few (one), too small video screen. Worse yet, the famously rude fans who think it’s all right to talk all dur- ing a free show were out in force. Some fans could see and hear, but they paid


a price, not in cash, but in boredom, inconve- nience and discomfort, having spent hours on the hot metal benches before the 8 p.m. show started, inexcusably 13 minutes late. At 4:35 p.m., Jenny Marquart of Syracuse had already been sitting in the third row to the left of center stage for more than two hours, but she wasn’t complaining. “We’re not moving,” Marquart said. “That tree’s blocking all the sun. It was not shady until a little bit ago. We were all in the sun.” In truth, Lady A doesn’t live up to the


adoration they’re attracting, although that’s not to say they aren’t an impressively talented trio. Their songwriting excellence puts them in position to go far; the early rendition of “Love Don’t Live Here” is a fine example, for those who could hear it. They’re also enjoy- ing the advantage of being the flavor of the month, played to death by both country and adult contemporary radio and they have the resources to provide plenty of flash in shows, as with the array of laser light bars behind them on stage. Given the conditions, Little Big Town was


Lady Antebellum: Overflow Chevy Court crowd greeted the country hitmakers.


the better value, with all four voices soaring on virtually every song, sounding at times a bit like Crosby, Stills and Nash. Attendance, while not approaching Lady Antebellum’s double-digit throng, was still good with all the benches filled by showtime and quite a few fans on the fringes. LBT lacks the arrogance that’s creeping into Lady A’s act, coming across as four young singers who are still


IDLE CHATTER


excited to be staging concerts together. The women seem to be the spokesladies for the quartet, as Karen Fairchild delivered a few well-chosen words and expressing the group’s delight that their just-released CD, The Reason Why, had debuted at No. 1 on the charts, no doubt boosted by the stirring advance single, “Little White Church,” rendered in rousing fashion for the Fair crowd. Although the fans attending the country-


leaning shows at the State Fair Grandstand had assigned seats from which they can actu- ally see and hear, the performances in most cases weren’t superior in quality to those at Chevy Court. The strongest sets were in fact delivered by the opening acts, starting with Montgomery Gentry’s Sept. 3 show. Since their 2002 set at the Grandstand as openers for Toby Keith, they’ve developed into a true Southern rock act and they carry the torch well, even throwing a couple of Lynyrd Sky- nyrd riffs. Troy (his friends call him T-Roy) Gentry’s growth has been pivotal as the act’s vocal presentation, although not helped any by Gentry’s microphone being a bit too hot, no longer has to be carried by Eddie Montgom- ery’s rich baritone. They’ve also toned down the rough-edge


redneck image a bit, although songs like the rollicking “One in Every Crowd” are still fun. Their themes of small-town life and blue col- lar values, hardly unique on country radio, are expressed poignantly, making “My Town” and “Lucky Man” show highlights. Headliner Tim McGraw made the audi-


ence sit through a trailer for his upcoming movie before he ambled on stage in his white T-shirt and wide-brimmed cowboy hat. He, too, has a long string of songs of class con- sciousness, from “Where The Green Grass Grows” to “Down on The Farm” and the cathartic “Southern Voice.” Speaking of voices, McGraw’s has never been


anything special and he did nothing this night to prove otherwise. But he has certainly hit his stride for finding better material than when he started out, although this intelligent, classy man still hasn’t stopped singing “Indian Outlaw,” the despicably racist song he released in 1994. That aside, he rebounded from a rock music overture, overcame a sound mix in which a loud bass rumble overpowered his singing at times and out-


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