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Review and setlist: John Mayer at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa




What is it about John Mayer that inspires such extreme reactions?

Mention him to some people (mostly guys) and they'll seethe. Why, that arrogant, womanizing, self-satisfied so-and-so! His music is blander than baking soda! ...

Mention him to others (mostly women) and they'll swoon. Oh, that sexy, soulful guitar god! I hope he thinks MY body is a wonderland, too!

Mayer's all too aware of how his reputation tends to precede him, as evidenced by new single Who Says: "Who says I can't be free / from all the things that I used to be / rewrite my history ... "

Rewriting history seemed to be on Mayer’s mind Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum, on the second show of his 2010 Battle Studies tour. Only a few of the singer’s greatest hits made the cut for the setlist, which drew heavily from the latest disc.

Nevertheless, the nattily dressed crowd of 11,739 inside the Forum adored seeing their pop-rock pinup swivel his hips and dish out the solos live and in person. He was charming, chatty and funny, and he looked happy to be back onstage, where no one can ask him about who he's currently dating.

That said, he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at his tabloid-friendly alleycat ways. When a fan handed him a sign that said “I’m your Joshua Tree!” – a reference to an unprintable quote about, um, "love" from his recent, revealing Rolling Stone cover story – he grabbed the sign, riffed on the quote for a bit, and autographed the sign with a kiss.

Such a jokester, that Johnny!

When he wasn’t reliving his own life story from the stage, he seemed to be impersonating others’. The concert had the feel of a classic rock show from 1975, right down to the lengthy, noodly drum and organ solos. Mayer himself seemed happiest whenever he managed to break away from the mic and switch on his world-class guitar face, like on the rip-roaring blues ditty Crossroads. Whenever Pop John lost interest, and Blues John came out to play, it felt like you were inside a Lethal Weapon movie.

Actually, instead of Eric Clapton, maybe a better comparison is Sting. At times, with his high rasp and jones for jazz-fusiony breakdowns, Mayer seemed to channel the Police frontman – especially when he spliced in a snippet of Walking On the Moon during a drawn-out coda to Waiting On the World to Change.

Waiting was one of a few oldies but goodies Mayer busted out during the show. The most notable: No Such Thing, his first big single from 2001’s Room For Squares; he even told the story of writing it in his dorm room back in 1998. Bigger Than My Body was another early-set crowd-pleaser. Slow-burn blues favorite Gravity closed out the pre-encore set. And a few of the poppier cuts from Battle Studies Heartbreak Warfare, Half of My Heart – managed to get the crowd to their feet.

Fittingly, it was Who Says that Mayer chose to kick off his encore, and it sounded as good as any of his old hits -- especially when he changed the chorus to "It's been a long night in New York City / It's been a long night in Tampa, too." An old, cheesy trick, but we were all suckers for it. 

Regardless of what Mayer's life history holds from here on out, crowds don't seem to mind to the revisions he's already made.

Opener Michael Franti and Spearhead kicked the night off with a set of unimaginable energy, blending rock, ragga and boistrous beach-party anthems -- like last year's big hit Say Hey (I Love You) -- into a crowd-rousting jam session.

Franti hotstepped and moonwalked across the stage (on a cover of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean), and at times even achieved Bono-like grandiosity, such as when he ran out into the crowd to sing and play guitar from the stands. The band's joy was impossible to constrain all night long, and they definitely came away with a few new fans in Tampa.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo by Luis Santana, tbt*

1. Heartbreak Warfare
2. Crossroads
3. Bigger Than My Body
4. Belief
5. Perfectly Lonely
6. Assassin
7. Waiting on the World to Change
8. Edge of Desire
9. Half of My Heart
10. All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye
11. No Such Thing
12. Gravity

13. Who Says
14. Friends, Lovers or Nothing

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:16pm]


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