Gig Reviews

John Mayer – Melbourne, Rod Laver Arena 22/04/14

After we slipped in early, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals‘ fiery enthusiasm held through the last half of their set, proving their chops and justifying the buzz with an exceptionally energetic performance.

Somewhere between pop star, country singer, blues royalty and guitar virtuoso is John Mayer. There is simply no denying this guy is a supreme talent. Love him or loathe him it’s indisputable he writes catchy songs and rocks a guitar like nobody’s business. But after watching two hours of Mayer at his best in front of an almost sold out crowd at Rod Laver Arena, it was hard not to wonder – where does John Mayer fit?

In Australia and touring for the Byron Bay Bluesfest, Mayer opened the night to a darkened stage with his trusty Black1 Stratocaster in hand. Launching straight into Belief from his 2006 album Continuum, hopes were instantly raised for a blues driven, guitar centric evening reminiscent of his Where the Light Is show. Sadly the Strat was short lived, and the more acoustic side of Mayer’s work soon got a showcase.

No sooner could you feel the audience’s desire to hark back to the earlier days, Mayer commented on it. He described his 2002 hit Your Body is a Wonderland as “Lego blocks” – three chords played over and over again. “You don’t want to hear that, well maybe 30 seconds but not 4 minutes” he quipped.

Instead Mayer played something for himself, Waiting for the Day from his latest album Paradise Valley, with an honest display of enthusiasm for this new work which may just have rubbed off on the crowd.

From there the night swung between country, rock and blues but never settled long in one position. His array of covers featured Tom Petty‘s Free Fallin‘, Van Morrison‘s And it Stoned Me and an acoustic verse/chorus from Lionel Richie‘s All Night Long. Beyonce’s XO was on the list, but was substituted for classic Neon.

Mayer’s band are tight but lack real chemistry, and the decision to hand lead solo duties to the band guitarist was a questionable one. Not to say he did a bad job, but nobody pays money to see the understudy.

The set finished with another classic, Waiting on the World to Change, then his open letter to his “before he was famous” lover in Dear Marie. The sincerity of the latter almost encapsulated the evening. When Mayer says, “Dear Marie, tell me what it was I used to be,” it’s clear he’s still wrestling with that question.

After a brief venture off stage the band returned for a one song encore of Gravity, complete with rhythmically smooth and enduring solo. It was a defining moment for the show, bringing together the different strands of Mayer’s musical life – pop star, balladeer, six string hotshot – and tying the whole package together.

John Mayer live is an experience both remarkable and predictable, like hearing a great story to which you already know the ending. We can’t expect the bluesy soul and focused style of the John Mayer Trio, nor does a stadium show lend itself to stripped back acoustic intimacy.

The only real through line is Mayer himself, and we have to take him for what he is. Fortunately he’s still as honest, witty and talented as he was in his “Lego block” days, and that should be enough to sustain us for one night.

Photos: John Mayer – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne 22/04/14 / Photos by Aleksandar Jason

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