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Jason Mraz/James Blunt
November 13, 2005 – Paramount Theatre – Seattle, WA
by Ashley Graham

There’s a certain something that makes Jason Mraz work perfectly. There’s a certain something that makes him work, when the multitude of mid-20s male pop singer/songwriters can be atrociously difficult to bear. After witnessing his set at the Paramount, it seems that certain something falls to Mraz’s ability to emphasize the goofy and highlight his own shortcomings. Everybody loves a geek, and in the most charming way, that gets the ladies (REALLY) excited, Mraz is the musical equivalent to the elementary school class clown.

Through two albums and countless interviews, the smile has never seemed to leave Mraz’s face and his lighthearted attitude and carefree melodies have lead to serious success. 2002’s “The Remedy,” could have easily made Mraz a one hit wonder, but by being a completely inescapable personality, he managed to use the song’s success to his advantage. This year’s
Mr. A-Z has seen good play, and the single “Wordplay” made innumerable treks across the VH1 screen.

Mraz’s onstage antics are even more charming than his boyish face and lovable lyrics. He’s quick to mock himself, saying his music puts the “TEMPO in Adult Con-TEMPO-rary” and the “IGHT in lIGHT rock,” and also quick to deter from the music, in one moment engaging one of his bandmates in an onstage guessing game of animal sounds. Before introducing longtime friend Tristan Prettyman back onto the stage with him, he details to the crowd how badly he has to use the restroom, stating, “All that water and tea I’ve been drinking all day has really caught up with me, but I study tantric urination, so I’ll be okay” and then adds, “I keep it in so long it turns into fuel that can run my car, so I’m also a bit of a conservationist.” As Prettyman comes on stage to play their duet “Shy That Way,” Mraz runs off leaving her to engage in small talk with the audience, before running back onstage and declaring, “Who designed this place? The bathroom was all the way downstairs!”

Mraz works because he’s not concerned with being so serious a songwriter and takes the “quirky and cute” road with great pride. That’s not to say the songs aren’t good too—but in quite a feat, Mraz walks the line between cheesy and charming, and does it all with relative natural ease. It’s safe to say the target audience has been hit, and they’re filling theatres to get more of Mraz. Puttin’ the tempo in, indeed.

In contrast to Mraz’s workability is opener James Blunt. An English-export, Blunt recently put out his debut
Back to Bedlam, a disc full of songs about lost loves and wartime experiences complemented by inoffensive vocals and an even more inoffensive performer. Blunt takes the stage with just his guitar and keyboardist, Paul Beard, and plays what is likely the bulk of his album.

The problem here is not in the songwriting and it’s not in the stage presence—in fact, Blunt is very entertaining and funny in between his songs—the problem is in the discrepancy between the two. Where Mraz emphasizes both sides of his personality, the sweet and the serious, Blunt revels in the serious, even introducing a couple of his songs with “Here’s another depressing one for you,” either before or after telling the joke about his microphone slipping down at a show in England to the height at which it appeared he was giving himself “head.”

In person Blunt has the charm of a Mraz-like performer, but the difference becomes the songs, which smack of insincerity when accompanied by a joking demeanor. Mraz, for the good or bad of his music, is genuine, where Blunt seems uncertain of his role just yet. The two come back together audience-wise though, as Blunt is a sure-fire winner when it comes to the 20s-30s female population in the way that Damien Rice could have been, if only he’d told a few lame jokes in interviews and not taken himself so serious. After all, who wants to love a songwriter with such pride in their work?

Jason Mraz tours through December, including a few noteworthy shows opening for The Rolling Stones in late November, before picking up again with James Blunt in February 2006.