In concert: John Mayer
By Chris Klimek
"There's something about the authoritative wrong note that I've always really liked," opined John Mayer at Verizon Center Saturday night.
You think? Ever since his racy, racially inflammatory musings saw print in a Playboy interview, Mayer - the 32-year-old, 6-foot-plus, sensitive balladeer and guitar Lothario who once took home a Grammy for a song called "Your Body Is a Wonderland" - has been in a defensive crouch. For his 3.1 million Twitter followers, the rest has been (mostly) silence since 2:26 p.m. on Feb. 10, when he fretted, "They don't make rehab centers for being [a jerk]."
That night he nearly broke down onstage in Nashville, fumbling through an awkward, apparently heartfelt apology for saying - well, he said plenty. Let it suffice that the interview raised the question of why mega-selling albums like 2006's "Continuum" and last year's "Battle Studies" are such stubbornly milquetoast affairs when their singularly self-aware author seems to have a boxed set's worth of early-Prince freakitude inside him.
On the evidence of his generous two-hour set Saturday, the interview has not depressed his stock with teenage white girls or their moms. Even so, it was apparent from the opener "Heartbreak Warfare" - a shimmery ballad conflating global calamities and girl trouble, as has become Mayer's songwriting SOP - that Jennifer Aniston's ex would be spending the evening on his best behavior. He came to play. Not so much to talk.
(G-rated and guitar prowess, plus more pictures after the jump.)
Appropriately, a propulsive cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" came second, slathering the house in splashes of '70s guitar napalm. He rides those drippy ballads to the bank, but no one denies his virtuosity with his instrument. (The guitar, we should point out.) Those velvety ax ministrations went over big, but not nearly as big as the primal wails that erupted a moment later when Mayer doffed his jacket. The sight of his lanky, tattooed, Krav Maga-striking arms sent estrogen production into overdrive.
Musically, the man most responsible for bringing sexy back was drummer Steve Jordan, whose flexy but merciless groove kept the show anchored against the star's predilection for drift. Jordan's mid-show solo camel-walked into a passage of James Brown's "Soul Power" before morphing, anticlimactically, into Mayer's conspicuously Curtis Mayfield-like hit, "Waiting on the World to Change."
Earlier, Mayer had dismissed the band to play "a very shaky acoustic set" on the orders of "some crazy muse." Before wrapping up with a tentative take of that "Wonderland" song, it had found room for a chestnut from his 1999 debut that he delivered with conviction. Its title? "My Stupid Mouth."
When he finally let his mouth do the talking, Mayer kept things polite and G-rated, thanking his public profusely and declaring he now performs purely for love, since he doesn't need any more money. When he joked about putting his fortune into developing a "heli-boat," he was still wearing his guitar face, as if working hard to stay in safe rhetorical waters.
That he's a seasoned, crowd-pleasing pro doesn't change the fact that a Mayer watching his mouth is a lot less interesting than one who isn't. But spend a little time with either of them, and even crisis-management Mayer is at least as hard to dislike as he is to champion with gusto.
Oh, well. We'll always have Twitter. Won't we, John?
February 22, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
Categories: In concert | Tags: John Mayer
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