“My stupid mouth has got me in trouble, I said too much again” sang a young John Mayer on his debut studio album Room For Squares, released some 16 years ago now. And his ‘stupid’ mouth (read twitter in today’s age) is what the now 39-year-old guitarman is generally in the media for. But it is for his mastery of blues guitar that I will always (always!) try and catch his live shows.
Following the release of pop-rock record Room For Squares and its successor Heavier Things in 2003, featuring radio-friendly singles Bigger Than My Body and Daughters, it was with 2006 blues-infused record Continuum that Mayer’s worldwide appeal grew but also demonstrated that such music had a place in the hearts of younger people as well as those who may have caught the likes of Jimi Hendrix live back in the 1960’s – indeed one of the standout tracks on the record was a cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience tune Bold As Love, its complex guitar-work something Hendrix himself never played live.
Since then, Mayer has tried his hand at pop with Battle Studies, committed social suicide by way of two rather controversial interviews with Playboy and Rolling Stone magazines and released two Country-tinged Americana records while cutting back on touring following extensive treatment for vocal problems. He also joined Dead & Company with former members of rockers Grateful Dead.
In 2017 he returns with his seventh studio album The Search For Everything, Mayer’s attempt to steer his career back towards the pop-rock hits he used to make but which, disappointingly, falls short of even approximating those glory days. But he can still play that guitar like a madman and his honey-slick voice is still what it used to always be to my untrained ear. And so I march, to London’s famous tent-venue: The O2 Arena for the second of the his two shows there.
Back in 2007, Mayer played a one-off show at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre following the release of Continuum. During the show he played a short solo acoustic set, a blues set alongside The Who’s touring bassist Pino Palladino, a legend in his own right having featured on records from many big hitters over the decades, and former Blues Brothers drummer Steve Jordan as The John Mayer Trio, before returning to the stage for a third time with a full band and a lengthy rock/pop set, showcasing the Fairfield, Connecticut-native’s ability to cross musically genres so effortlessly. And tonight, we were treated to not three sets but five ‘chapters’ from the 39-year old.
Appearing on the East London stage following an introduction on the huge screen forming the stage backdrop as ‘Chapter 1: Full Band’, flanked by guitarists Isaiah Sharkey and David Ryan Harris, Mayer kicked off the night with Continuum lead single Waiting On The World To Change, the floor-seated crowd not bothering with their seats from the off.
New album material was quickly slotted in by way of a one-two punch of funk-infused Helpless followed by Moving On And Getting Over. But before Mayer became too self-indulgent, the signature opening chords of his 2002 debut single No Such Thing sprung from his acoustic guitar, the 20,000-strong crowd collectively erupting into a cheer. Changing, another from the new record, closed out the first chapter in fine style with Mayer losing himself in one of his incredible guitar solos before he and his band departed the stage as the lights went down.
‘Chapter 2: Acoustic’ appeared on the large screen before it transformed into a Japanese garden scene, illuminating a small bridge that now adorned the stage, Mayer returning wearing his National Style-O Resonator 12-string guitar and accompanied only by backing singers Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts. Tonight’s acoustic treats didn’t disappoint with Continuum single Dreaming With A Broken Heart kicking off proceedings before Born And Raised cut Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967 made full use of the metal guitar.
Continuum treat Stop This Train had many in the crowd singing along before Mayer gifted us his Where The Light Is live rendition of Room For Squares tune Neon, the guitar man’s dancing fingers an absolute delight to watch as the bass-style intro transformed into song’s signature riff.
Simply the words ‘Chapter 3: Trio’ appearing on the backdrop screen had the arena going nuts, it’s video introduction featuring interview footage of Mayer, Jordan and Palladino, with Mayer stating that it was only a matter a time before the three got back on the road as a more imposing drum riser was wheeled out for Jordan.
Mayer, Jordan and Palladino burst back on stage to huge cheers but minus the bluesman suits they’ve worn in the past, breaking straight into a rendition of Robert Johnson’s classic blues cut Crossroads performed in the style of Eric Clapton’s Cream before John Mayer Trio original Good Love Is On The Way was aired. The guitar virtuoso had the O2 Arena clapping along to funk-blues intro to Vultures next, the fan-favourite Continuum cut closing out the all too brief ‘Trio’ chapter in style.
New album singles In The Blood and Katy Perry-referencing funk-pop tune Still Feel Like Your Man opened up ‘Chapter 4: Full Band (Reprise)’, “Are you still with us? Right on” Mayer saying after the short pause between sets.
“Everyone on this stage could play an entire show by themselves and that makes it all the more unreasonable and incredible that they would want to join me for my songs on this stage tonight” Mayer gushed of his seven-strong ensemble before handing over vocal duties to guitarist David Ryan Harris for a brief, soulful rendition of Prince classic The Beautiful Ones, which segued all too quickly into slow blues Continuum song Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.
“This is one of my favourite songs of mine” Mayer said, introducing Paradise Valley tune Dear Marie. “It’s on a record that didn’t move the world but it taught me, just put records out, good or bad, commercial or non-commercial”, chuckles spreading out across the crowd as he continued to rip his 2013 release to shreds.
The band disappeared briefly before returning to stage for their encore, the sole cut from 2009’s Battle Studies – Edge Of Desire – kicking off proceedings before tonight’s last minute addition to the setlist and fan favourite Gravity was aired, the crowd shrieking in glee to Steve Jordan’s opening slow blues beat even before Mayer’s guitar was heard, mobile phone torches from many in the audience quickly lighting up the arena for the slower tune. “Will you sing it with me?” Mayer asked of his audience, the packed out arena crowd needing no further encouragement.
‘Chapter 5: Epilogue’ flashed up on the huge screen as the night was closed out with John Mayer shedding his guitars to sit behind a white upright piano for solo renditions of Paradise Valley song I Will Be Found (Lost At Sea) and The Search For Everything closer You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me, the Montana-resident then disappearing through a hidden door in the middle of the large screen backdrop a-la The Truman Show before film-style credits began to roll over the screen, the show’s cinematic theme wrapping up nicely.
While tonight’s setlist bore a semblance to last night’s show, it was different enough to demonstrate how very much like a box of chocolates Mayer’s shows are: you never know what you’re going to get. Personally, I’d kill to catch a full-blown John Mayer Trio blues show somewhere like The Royal Albert Hall.
Thankfully much of his usual inter-song unfiltered dialogue and woeful diatribes were replaced simply with grateful platitudes tonight, but no matter how much of a ‘stupid mouth’ Mayer has had in the past or continues to have as he approaches his fourth decade, there is no denying his mastery of the guitar, powerful voice and skilled cross-genre song-writing.
But as Jules LeFevre over at junkee.com writes of The Search For Everything: “What’s consistently frustrating about being a John Mayer fan is that he has the talent to make phenomenal music — and has done so in the past — but just isn’t”, a sentiment this career-long John Mayer fan absolutely concurs with.
John Mayer heads back to the U.S. for a 20-date tour with Dead & Company before continuing his Search For Everything tour with a massive 33 further US dates.
Live review of John Mayer @ The O2 Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 12th May 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate