John Mayer does not simply perform during his concerts – he serenades his audience. With every guitar string plucked, heartstrings were pulled as well.
No longer is he the Top 40 pop singer that seduced women with hits such as “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” Mayer has transformed into a mature songwriter that combines sultry blues guitar with Montana-inspired harmonies.
Opening Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center with “Queen of California” followed by “Wildfire,” Mayer was suited in khaki pants and an open-button jean shirt. There was no dancing. No glitz, no glamour. It was an intimate performance between Mayer and his fans.
The passion was apparent in Mayer’s facial expressions. He would often close his eyes for an extended period of time, focusing purely on his vocals and on playing his guitar
The concert was part of Mayer’s tour behind his latest album “Paradise Valley,” released August 2013. The album was his comeback into the music world after a two-year hiatus while recovering from vocal granuloma, a growth in his vocal cords.
What makes Mayer’s live performances so much more captivating than his studio recordings are his breakdowns of songs and solos on the guitar. This is why I believe Mayer is an underrated guitarist. Only his fans who have heard his music live have had the chance to hear Mayer in his prime, expanding certain musical elements and performing intricate solos that compliment each song.
His Montana-inspired animated backdrop was transfixing. A screen filled with stars shone behind Mayer and his band. Throughout the concert, the images transitioned from a dark Montana sky with shooting stars and Northern Lights into a hot, desert morning – all as if the audience had spent an evening in Mayer’s musical paradise valley.
It was clear that the audience, although enjoying the blues of the guitar, wanted to hear more of Mayer’s classic hits from his earlier career. The roar of the audience for some of his newer tracks such as “Waitin’ on the Day” and “Dear Marie” didn’t come close to comparing to the reaction when the opening riffs of “Why Georgia” or “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room” were recognized.
“(I know there’s) no emotional connection, no memory, brand new, brand-spanking new,” Mayer said, acknowledging his new music that the audience may be unfamiliar with. “Let’s make a memory out of this to take you back to this moment.”
To please the audience, Mayer took requests from some of the various fan-made signs. “3X5,” “Sucker” and “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” were among the chosen tracks, and Mayer played them without his band in an intimate acoustic session.
The most memorable moment of the night was when Mayer returned for his encore. The audience had begun lighting up their cell phone flashlights after his initial leave from the stage. The small glittering lights around the arena set up the mood to create an atmosphere that was magical. Mayer recognized this and requested that the phone lights be the only source of light during the remainder of the show.
“Gravity” was Mayer’s choice to reward the audience, and he did not disappoint. The seven-minute encore gave me chills. In the midst of the song, Mayer exclaimed, “I love you” to the audience and continued to embark on one of his most famous live solos, which has been featured in Grammy performances and his live concert DVD, “Where the Light Is.”
The solo had nothing to do with the song, but in return meant everything. It makes the concert experience unique and memorable. It’s not something that you can pull up and listen to any time of the day, it’s an in-the-moment gift from Mayer to his fans.