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Music | POP REVIEW

Mraz displays ease and charm at Disney Hall

June 18, 2004|Steve Hochman | Times Staff Writer

Jason Mraz has made only one studio album, and already he's releasing a live one -- a very unconventional move with his "Live at the Eagle Ballroom" CD/DVD package due in August. But anyone who saw the San Diego-based singer-songwriter at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday understands why. Rarely has an artist been as poorly represented by a debut album as Mraz was by 2002's "Waiting for My Rocket to Come."

Where that album left an impression of him as a genially earnest performer easy to lose in the shadows of Dave Matthews, John Mayer and Jack Johnson, live he is Mr. Personality.

Not that the songs he's playing on his current acoustic tour -- with accompanying percussionist Jennifer Lowe and DJ Bob Necksnapp and opening acts Makana and Raul Midon, collectively dubbed the Curbside Prophets -- aren't central as well.

Effectively taking his coffeehouse roots to this bigger venue (as the first pop act to play the main Disney room), he seemed more a descendant of such sensitive mellow men as James Taylor, Don McLean and Graham Nash with his high, pure voice and lyrics examining just what this love thing is all about.

A closing trio segment with Hawaiian Makana (who had dazzled with his stylized slack-key guitar playing in his opening set) and New Yorker Midon (who displayed his own guitar fireworks and a Stevie Wonder-inspired song sense) added gorgeous harmonies also echoing that earlier era.

But more than the songs, what stood out in this first of two Disney nights before boisterous, predominantly young female fans, was his ease, natural wit and in-the-momentness. Whether in improvised sung introductions, pre- or midsong digressions or even a running flirtation with one woman seated behind the stage he was consistently charming -- except perhaps to the woman's date.

Though there have been concerns about the quality of sound for nonclassical performances in the finely tuned acoustics of Disney Hall, the relatively spare approach (amplified acoustic guitars, subtle percussion) worked as well here as at any conventional pop facility.

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