I was fortunate to catch two terrific concerts last weekend that helped reassure me that sometimes the music actually gets to do the talking in these days of slick publicity stunts and product placements on every commercial you can imagine. My review of the Brad Paisley concert will show up tomorrow, but I really want to talk about Mr. A-Z and his incredible show at Red Rocks Saturday night (check out the prelude here).
You never know how a venue and an artist will mesh until you really get into it, but I was pretty sure that Jason at Red Rocks would be a magical night, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Just sitting there in the middle of those rocks, taking in the end-of-summer night with 9,000 other people, is an experience in itself. Don’t get me going on how some people have no courtesy for the people around them, but that’s the minority at a show like this. People are actually more likely to play along at a show like this when the person on the stage commands everyone to give the person next to them a high-five, which happened a couple of times.
My one condition in going to a show with someone is that I must be there to see the opening act, and this concert was a good reason why. I’ve heard about K’Naan on several occasions from Mel, and I have liked what I have heard of him, but his live show made me a convert to his Somalian-rooted music. You would never know that he played with only three musicians, because the sound they kicked out made them sound like a 10-piece unit. He won the audience over pretty quickly, even though the majority of people there didn’t even know one song by the guy. To his credit, K’Naan taught the crowd the chorus to “Wavin’ Flag” in record time, and for that alone, he has my respect.
Quick side note: Bushwalla. Annoying dude. I know he and Jason go way back, but still. He said he wanted this to be “the show you want it to be”, but then commanded people to play along with group participation activities. Just annoyed me a bit.
Jason’s set was brilliant. Do I need to say anymore? Okay…he opened up with “Make It Mine”, which is probably the most natural show-opening song I can think of, but also smart because the Gratitude Cafe tour name comes from that track as well. The pacing of the show was outstanding, with perky upbeat tracks leading into long, luxurious jams that floated on the early-evening breeze blowing through the amphitheater. In fact, his cover of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” was as inspired a cover he could have played, even exceeding the somewhat predictable Bob Marley cover “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”.
Highlight for me was “Details in the Fabric”, which is among my all-time favorite Mraz tracks, and not necessarily an audience pleaser, although a certain percentage of the audience sang along with me as if it was their anthem, too. “The Remedy” found a new life as a reggae jam, taking on a whole new meaning. It was great to have Jason playing the reggaed-up melody while the audience sang along with the original tune because they blended well. “I’m Yours” received the loudest reception, and the sing-along was potentially the loudest I’ve ever heard at Red Rocks.
Was the show worth seeing again, less than a year after my last JMraz show? Absolutely. Bigger venue, but there was an intimacy at Red Rocks that I can’t explain, even being 35 rows back. It’s all about the connection between the artist and the audience, although some magic in the Rocks sure doesn’t hurt, either.