John Mayer came out Friday night at the Times Union Center with a series of pop tracks, then followed it up with a set of solo acoustic songs, moved into heavy rock with a power trio, and returned to pop with a full band, adding from extended jams to the songs. He carved out a unique position for himself, straddling two careers and two successful audiences – his pop star status and his burgeoning success on the jam band circuit. Friday the night seemed like an effort to gently integrate his two worlds.
He’s got a wide range and pushed it to the limit Friday night. Undoubtedly, his young audience was happiest during familiar pop tunes, although there were exceptions.
He opened the show with brief mid-tempo rock numbers, beginning with “Belief”, then he slowed down with “I Don’t Trust Myself”.
Shortly after, the stage floor transformed into an image of moving blue water, and the band began “Love on the Weekend”, a drenched pop track, before hitting the bouncy groove of “Moving On and Getting Over”. It’s a track you might see him sharing with his “Dead and Company” friends. Here he stopped the band, talked about how he liked the song as a dance number. “It’s short, so we’ll play it again.” The whole floor of the TU Center was already up and moving, but that made a good part of the arena go up. He stopped it again and had drummer Steve Jordan play another groove, and they played a few more choruses with a new feel.
If nothing else, Mayer showed at the start of the show how easily he can switch from lighthearted to rock and blues. Many artists have a wide range, but it turns into a totally different artist and adapts to each role.
At this point, the stage emptied and Mayer returned alone with an acoustic guitar to sing “Daughters”, which led to vocals dominated by female vocals. He also covered Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” with his acoustic, again with help from his female fans.
Mayer did not push his voice. He is a soft and controlled singer. You can feel him pacing on the long tour. But he did not hold back on his guitar, to the great pleasure of some, to the chagrin of others.
After the acoustic they released new drums to perform as a trio – with bassist and Mayer. The trio came out heavy, sounding like Hendrix or Cream at their most rowdy, running through “Who Did You Think I Was”. For many this game might have seemed complacent, for others exciting. There was energy, but they played too much, didn’t work together, rushed everything.
They settled for “Promised Land,” a Grateful Dead staple, and a nice tribute to its author, the recently deceased Chuck Berry. The audience stopped and watched, but it exposed the “dead heads” hidden around the arena who danced vigorously for this one.
The full band returned for the wonderful “Queen of California”, which Mayer seemed to enjoy more than most. We had a great piano solo, followed by a melodic and skillful guitar solo. The band found their pocket on this one and Mayer was smart to let it roll for some extra laps, giving the audience more of their jam-band side.
He returned to his pop side with the lovely “Dear Marie”, a sweet folk song that touched on yet another side of his game.
Mayer knows his audience well and what most of them have come to hear. But that didn’t stop him from playing his guitar, including a long, jazzy cover in the encore set, allowing each of his band members to play solo.
Mayer has a long tour ahead of him, and Friday The night’s concert indicates a desire to present his former fans with the other side of him. Considering the number of Grateful Dead outfits scattered throughout the crowd, his individual effort to convert both sides could be successful. Regardless of what he played, it was an intense and auspicious musical evening for the tour.
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