Jason Mraz reminds me of Matthew McConaughey. He’s got a certain goofy, self-serious charm and laid-back manner that’s appealing without necessarily being intellectually engaging. After all, this is a fellow that rhymes “mystics” with “fish sticks” (“The Dynamo of Volition”) and showed up at Time Warner Cable Amphitheater in a feather-bedecked straw fedora and cargo pants.
Knee-length shorts would’ve better suited the island-y vibe of his set, which coasted from faux(k)-soul balladering to groovy jams with a little Latin and reggae thrown in for good measure. His cover of “Summer Breeze” pretty much sums up his appeal: sentimental lite-rock with a dash of hippie lassitude. He promised to “put some bounce in your knees,” which he generally did for the female-tilted crowd.
Mraz played “Anything You Want” — informing the audience he wrote it with the Wailers, though the generally young audience probably had little idea who they were — and dove into some dub for “Remedy (I Won’t Worry).” He hit the major stops with “A Beautiful Mess,” the bossanova-flavored “No So Usual” and the waltzy Beatlesque lubby dubby of “If It Kills Me.”
Almost every song featured a big, repetitive chorus with some epigrammatic line repeated as incessantly as a commercial tagline. Yep, you’re soaking in it. Of course, this makes it pretty accessible and that’s the point. It’s most evident on his hit “I’m Yours,” which garnered ear-piercing screams from the teens and tweens in the audience. (Likewise, the song titles are almost inevitably the choral line, presumably to ease their identification on iTunes.)
Backed by a saxophonist, two horn players, a drummer and bongo-pounding percussionist, bassist and keyboard player, Mraz produced a sizable sound, which more than compensated for the lack of electric guitar (other than on a couple tunes in the last third of the set.)
He rapped (poorly) on “Curbside Prophet,” demonstrating less flow than the Dead Sea, a fact made more evident when he invited onstage openers G. Love (who can almost rap) and K’Naan (whose rap skills suggested a Ferrari pulling up alongside Mraz’s station wagon). Generally, he stuck to his amiable baritone croon, playing off his winsome, easy-going manner.
Whatever his flaws, Mraz played for a long time (though maybe it seemed longer because of the choruses). This included a pair of encores — a three-song set from a small stage set up in the middle of the floor. This gave the back rows a bit of up close and personal, after which he returned to the stage for a couple more horn-fueled jams, whose loose spirit reflected the night’s attitude.
More than two hours after he started, Mraz was still going, the strains of the last song echoing over the Cuyahoga, fulfilling his promise in a thousand bouncing, swaying knees. —Chris Parker