The Many Sides of John Mayer

MayerJohn Mayer is so talented, it’s almost stunted his career.

He has such appeal to young women with his sticky love songs, he won’t ever be in danger of losing them; at the same time, he’s such an accomplished guitar hero, he gains another group of fans who care little about his love ditties.

His worst performance so far has come in being a rock star. He’s fallen into its excesses by dating celebrities, becoming a recurring item in tabloids and giving offensive interviews.

On his new tour, he hopes to bypass all that with everything else he does so well, and it makes for a big, impressive evening.

On the fourth stop of the tour Thursday at the Verizon Center in D.C., he divides his show obsessively into sections so prescribed, there are titles on the screen behind him of things that would be obvious to anyone watching: The Full Band, Acoustic, a Trio set, the Encore, etc.

Within those frameworks, he’s free to mess around with the setlist, changing it every night since the tour began.

He’s smart enough to include not only a few of his new album ”The Search for Everything,”  but songs from throughout his career.

He had a splendid band, which at is heart is a rhythm section that I’d go see backing anybody — drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino, who made everything rock solid.

Their trio work was one featured segment of the concert and it flew from inventive blues and jazz playing to replicating some of the best of the rock trios, in this case Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Bold as Love.” How splendid not only to hear it played so well, but to have an arena of young people singing along to what was once considered a Hendrix deep cut.

Just as he often finds just the right tone for his guitar, Mayer often creates a full, deep and soulful sound from his band. Some of the songs are better than others, but its a hopeful sign that some of the newest of his songs sound best.

Still boyish at 39, even Mayer by now seems a little sheepish about playing his first big hit, the cringey “Your Body is a Wonderland.” But he pledged in his solo set to do it with as much verve as he could muster and without irony.

These individual sets were quite the productions — when he was solo, not only did the other musicians clear off the stage — so did all of their equipment. He stood alone, alongside a Japanese bridge, accompanying the Mt. Fuji and falling cherry blossoms of the backing video. It closed with a singalong cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin.’”

The trio had its own sleek look in its brief set that also took on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

The kind of playing that helped him when he joined, quite surprisingly, the Dead & Company tour last year, was featured when the band re-convened, and some of the stretching out he and the band did could be considered jamming.

The problem with having so many interests and talents is not having a central focus. But the multiple approaches seemed to satisfy the fans. I don’t know why he refuses to play one of his best songs, “Waiting for the World to Change.” Instead he’s ending the shows in a second encore (which the titles call an “Epilogue”) with him solo on an empty white stage singing “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me,” which, paired with “Still Feel Like Your Man” that started the encore may just remind people of his tabloid breakup with Katy Perry instead.

Clearly the man has more work to do.

Mayer began his career dropping out of Berklee and starting a blues trio in Atlanta. It had to be better than The Record Company, the trio that started the show so badly it may have made everything Mayer did sound better by comparison.

 

 

 

 

The setlist for John Mayer Thursday was: 

  • “Belief”
  • “Why Georgia”
  • “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)”
  • “Love on the Weekend”
  • “Vultures”
  • “3×5″
  • “Emoji of a Wave”
  • “Your Body is a Wonderland”
  • “Free Fallin’”
  • “Who Did You Think I Was”
  • “Ain’t No Sunshine”
  • “Bold as Love”
  • “Moving On and Getting Over”
  • “Blues Run the Game”
  • “Queen of California”
  • “Who Says”
  • “Stitched Up”
  • “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”
  • “Still Feel Like Your Man”
  • “Born and Raised”
  • “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me”

 

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