When singer/songwriter/guitarist John Mayer played Blossom in 2004, he seemed to be a conflicted artist. Between songs he kept ripping of searing guitar licks, stopping himself and then returning to his groovy, adult alternative pop tunes as if he was afraid to unleash his inner guitar hero for fear of alienating the folks who just wanted to be told their body was a wonderland. Eventually, his inner guitar hero escaped and he played a seemingly off the cuff and credible take on Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return).
Since then Mayer has given that inner guitar hero plenty of room to breathe, particularly on Try! his 2005 live trio album with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino and his recent multi-format Live album Where The Light Is.
In 2008 the pop star and the guitar hero have merged and Thursday night at Blossom in front of a large, multi-generational, multi-cultural crowd he successfully channeled both sides of his artistic nature, and with his natural stage charisma and enthusiasm Mayer held fans in the palm of his fretboard fondling hands for nearly two hours.
Mayer's setlists are usually similar in content with a few surprises thrown in and wildly variant in sequence. At Blossom, sporting tank top that showed off off his tattooed arms, he opened the set upbeat and funky with the bluesy riff of Good Love Is On The Way quickly followed by Bigger Than My Body.
Fronting a septet that featured two horn players, former Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh and singer/songwriter/ex-Follow For Now frontman David Ryan Harris, Mayer was a constantly moving ball of energy playing many guitar solos invoking the styles of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray and some Eddie Van Halen style pyrotechnics and the crowd gave their energy right back to him by singing along and shimmying in their seats.
For listeners who find the grooves on Mayer's studio albums to be a bit to mannered, in concert everything his cranked up to 11 (well, maybe more like 9 and 1/2). The laid back Jack Johnson like beat of Belief became actually funky and he and the band turned Vultures into an extended funk jam with Mayer whistling harmony to his own guitar solo and dropping in a couple verses of Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler). He also took his R&B flavored ballad Gravity and extended it with a tasteful and lengthy slow building solo and a monologue on the power of love.
While Mayer is no longer shy about his love of leaning way back, scrunching up his face and wailing on his Stratocaster, he still appeared a bit surprised that his audience will pretty much allow him any and all musical indulgences.
"Let me tell you why you're so great," he said to the audience after a slow, 12-bar blues take of the classic Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do featuring a flashy solo, filled with tremolo bar theatrics.
"People talk about the death of pop culture, but I just played you guys one of the oldest R&B songs there is, thanks for letting me do that."
He peppered the set with other covers including an acoustic Free Fallin (yep, it was a sing-a-long) and bits of Daryl Hall's Every Time You Go Away and Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer.
Mayer is apparently comfortable enough with the pop star/guitar hero to delete a few of his breakthrough hits Daughters, and You're Body Is A Wonderland from his set entirely and only sometimes bothers with No Such Thing which he didn't play at Blossom but the crowd didn't seem to mind.
If Mayer ever decides to bring that energy and spontaneity to his studio albums he might work his way out of the (multiplatinum) mellow ghetto his detractors place him in alongside Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews.
But though Mayer is very much a 21st century, hyper self-aware pop star (like his Fallout Boy buddy Pete Wentz) and has referred to himself as "insufferable" and "kind of a "douchebag" (and later blogged about the word and its meaning, naturally), the 30 year-old seems to have a pretty good handle on his music and career.
Where The Light Is, is a live recording of a December 2007 concert for various Los Angeles charities and covers all of his current artistic bases. It features an acoustic set, another with the John Mayer Trio and a third set with his tour band debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200 and was released on 2CD, DVD, 2LP, Blu-Ray and download, so he appears to also have his financial bases covered as well.
Hopefully, opener Colbie Caillat is spending her summer on the side of the stage watching Mayer nightly work an audience, because while the young singer/songwriter's tunes from her debut album Coco are pleasant enough and she sang them well, her stage presence is lacking, a fact to which she made reference.
Singer/songwriter/Brett Dennan also performed.
John Mayer's Blossom Setlist
* Good Love is On the Way
* Bigger Than My Body
* I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
* Stop This Train
* Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
* Free Falling
* Waiting on the World to Change
* Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do
* Why Georgia
* Vultures/Makes Me Want To Holler
* Something Missing/Every Time You Go Away
* Get Out My/Sledgehammer
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