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Review: Jason Mraz is positive, entertaining presence in Pittsburgh

Rex Rutkoski
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Joanie Rutkoski | For the Tribune-Review
Jason Mraz performs at Heinz Hall on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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Joanie Rutkoski | For the Tribune-Review
Percussionist Toca Rivera, Jason Mraz and singer-songwriter Gregory Page perform at Heinz Hall on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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Joanie Rutkoski | For the Tribune-Review
Percussionist Toca Rivera, left Jason Mraz perform at Heinz Hall on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

Close your eyes and imagine a coffee house with 2,600 people in it.

The vibe is relaxed. In fact, informality reigns.

The mood is upbeat, infectiously positive.

The musicians are exceedingly at home and comfortable, obviously in their element.

A guitar needs re-tuned? There is no shyness about stopping a song and starting over again. After all, everyone in the room is friends, or is at least made to quickly feel that way.

The humor comes easily, as does the beauty of the music, the lovely harmonies, the wedding of the instrumentation, the touching lyrics, all combining to make you feel better about the world when you are leaving than when you came in and sat down.

Welcome to a Jason Mraz concert.

Introducing his musical support at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Saturday night, vocalist-percussionist Toca Rivera, and American–Irish singer-songwriter Gregory Page, friends he first met performing at a coffee house when he moved from Virginia to San Diego at the age of 21, Mraz told the eager, near-capacity crowd, “We’ll do our best to create a coffee shop (atmosphere) here tonight.”

And he, and they, succeeded admirably.

Working his magic

Mraz, 41, this most positive of singer-songwriters, worked his magic with a heady mix of melodic pop with stylistic nods toward folk, jazz, jam band music, hip-hop and soft rock, presenting himself in various configurations throughout the evening: singing solo, separately with Page and then Rivera, and also performing as a most intriguing trio.

He made repertoire stops along the way at career points that have earned him two Grammy Awards and the prestigious Songwriter Hall of Fame Hal David Award.

He also offered a taste of material from his fine new album, “Know.”

Page is a solid artist, and also a producer and filmmaker, in his own right who performs throughout the world. Mraz has referred to him as, “the real deal, a rare gift.”

Page’s Irish mother was lead singer in the all-girl group, The Beat-Chics, that opened four concerts for the Beatles in Spain in 1965.

Pittsburgh-timely

Page’s opening program included the timely, “Love is Stronger than Hatred,” which included the lyrics, “It’s time we start smiling again.”

Throughout the evening the musicians made sure the audience felt included as the house lights brightened and everyone was invited to raise their voices in song.

Rivera seemed to channel Carlos Santana with his happy demeanor, laying down solid percussion with the fascinating djembe, one of West Africa’s best-known instruments, dating back, it is believed, 400 to 800 years.

This goblet-shaped drum is traditionally carved from a single piece of African hardwood and topped with an animal skin as a drumhead.

Mraz uplifted with lyrical artistry. On “Details in the Fabric” he assured: “Hold your own/Know your name/And go your own way/And everything will be fine.”

On the reggae stylings of “I’m Yours” – “Look into your heart and you’ll find love, love, love, love,” he sang, winning affirmation from the fans.

On “Lucky” he shared the good news: “I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend,” and he encouraged fans to sing it to their partners.

A gentle reminder

In “93 Million Miles,” he offered the gentle reminder, “Just know, that wherever you go, you can always come back home … You can see that your home’s inside of you.”

As one number segued into the English ska band Madness’ “Our House,” (“Our house, in the middle of our street”) Mraz invited “everyone who is sexy” to sing along. Then he quickly added, to the delight of the crowd, “That’s a trick question. Everyone here is sexy.”

He brought the audience to its feet on “I Won’t Give up on Us,” with its gentle words of encouragement: “I’m giving you all my love. I’m still looking up … I see that you’ve come so far/To be right where you are/How old is your soul?”

He then told his fans, “One thing I’ve learned is a beautiful way to love someone is simply to listen to them. Thank you for listening tonight and for years and maybe even a decade.”

What he has learned along the way, he added, came “from the love the audience gave me.”

He left his Pittsburgh audience with this message from “Have It All” from the new CD: “And may the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows/And may the road less paved be the road that you follow.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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