John Mayer – who turns 42 later this year – is a far cry from the young, heartthrob, popstar he used to be, and he knows it. He’s accepted his transition from what he used to be to the next phase of his career with relative ease. In fact, Mayer’s career looks a lot like a sine curve – young up start singer-songwriter; chart-topping and Grammy-award winning artist; self-inflicted, attempted career suicide and public shame; Grateful Dead honorary member and legacy tour act. Mayer’s career has seen its fair share of ups and downs. In 2019, Mayer doesn’t have any songs in rotation on the radio, though he’s enjoyed some amount of success with streaming. For many, Mayer hasn’t released any music since Continuum (the album with Gravity on it). All things considered, Mayer has transitioned to the next phase of his career. In some ways, Mayer has been able to extend his career by befriending younger artists like Travis Scott, Shawn Mendes, Frank Ocean, and others; appearing on their music and as a producer. His signature guitar with Paul Reed Smith has made waves in the guitar community, and he continues to tour with Dead and Company. Though Mayer hasn’t released an album in over two years, he still has the catalog and cache for a world tour.
On Monday, July 22nd, John Mayer paid a visit to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center in support of his 2019 Summer tour.
While most artists opt for an opening on tour, Mayer decided to zig while others zag, ditching the opening act, and letting his varied catalog do the heavy lifting. And with a versatile skillset as a musician, it makes sense. Mayer began his first set accompanied by his full band, playing songs like, Vultures, Helpless, and Changing – songs that have an immediate and powerful punch to them, straddling the line between Rock, R&B, and Folk. Mayer’s full band accompaniment allowed him to be in the driver’s seat, pushing songs to new heights with each solo, as his guitar rang out throughout the arena.
In the early years, John Mayer made his name as a singer-songwriter playing shows with no accompaniment – just him and a guitar. Live looping pedals, which allow singers and instrumentalists to record multiple parts to a song in real time, weren’t as advanced as they are today, so Mayer learned how to make do with limited equipment. Though the technology wasn’t present, what seemed like a deficiency of the time allowed for Mayer to hone a unique skill set of guitar-playing.
The second set began with an empty stage – just Mayer and his guitar, playing a series of his songs on his acoustic driven songs like – Emoji of a Wave, fan favorite, In Your Atmosphere, and was later accompanied by David Ryan Harris for a duet, as they performed a cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’. As the lights dimmed, and the spotlight shifted, David Ryan Harris performed a [short] acoustic cover of Prince’s The Beautiful One’s, only to serve as a bridge to Slow Dancing In a Burning Room.
Mayer closed the night with two encores – an obvious, and fan favorite, Gravity (there’s no way he could leave the building without performing this one), and New Light – a campy, up tempo song, pop-song that borrows from the classic II-V-I chord progressions used in jazz.
Things I Hated: I’m not a fan of concerts held at indoor arenas. I don’t like the idea of an assigned seat. (Not yet at least. I’ll probably be begging for a seat when I’m older, but for now it’s a hindrance). For me, concerts held in arenas are good for the spectacle – the synchronized lights that go off during the show, the stage design. But, as far as music goes (it is a concert after all), I couldn’t despise arenas any more than I do now. Often times, due to the size of the room, a lot of the low-end frequencies get lost in the stadium mix. When we consider the frequencies at which sound travels, specifically in a band, the bass guitar, kick drum, and floor tom, all occupy the same area of real estate – they’re like musical neighbors, if you will. They all occupy some area of low-end frequencies. That said, I COULD NOT HEAR PINO PALLADINO’S BASS CLEARLY! Pino’s like 25% of the reason I went to the show. *Sigh*.
Funniest Moment: Now, most people that went to the show will probably say the funniest moment of the concert was one of John Mayer’s stand-up bits in between songs. And they wouldn’t be wrong, in some sense. He’s got great comedic timing, and has been doing stand-up shows with Dave Chappelle, so it makes sense.
But those weren’t any of the funniest moments. The funniest moment came when Mayer was introducing his band. Working from his left to his right, he started introducing each band member. When he got to his percussionist, Aaron Draper he stopped for a moment, saying “this one’s special, give it up for Philadelphia, own, Aaron Draper!” The crowd went into a slight frenzy for one of their own. Then it got interesting. In a moment of bantering to the Philadelphia crowd, John Mayer asked percussionist, Aaron Draper where the best (not favorite, mind you) cheesesteaks are from. The audience is yelling some variation of Pat’s, Geno’s, and other South Philly spots. Mayer walks over to Draper’s percussion pit, gets Draper’s answer, walks back to the mic and says, “Maxx’s.” Y’all, when I say the arena went dead SILENT, then a collective “huh?!?” How dare this Philadelphian say something other than Pat’s or Geno’s?! Well, let me explain. See, Philadelphia, like most US cities, is racially segregated. Everything from the schools you attend to the cheesesteak spots you favor, in some way, is a result of systemic racism. When Aaron Draper, a black man, said his favorite cheesesteak spot was Maxx’s – a cheesesteak restaurant in a predominately Black neighborhood – many of the white fans in attendance had never heard of it, because, most have never (or would never) go to a black neighborhood for a cheesesteak. Anyways, it was hilarious.