Review / setlist: John Mayer shuts up, lets his guitar and songs do the talking at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
Thanks to TMZ, John Mayer may never, ever, be able to live down the things that have escaped his own stupid mouth. But in a world dominated by the clickity-clacks, swipes and snaps of our connected devices, he put the sideshow on hold long enough to stage a performance that was simply … musical.
“I want you to be free,” Mayer, 35, explained to his adoring fans at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Saturday, before launching into Vultures, from his 2006 LP, Continuum, “I want everyone to be so busy dancing that the person next to them can’t take a picture and put it on Instagram.”
It kind of worked, and for two hours, the handsome, lanky, loud-mouthed guitar virtuoso owned the gorgeous September night, guiding his eight-piece band through a 19-song set that leaned heavily on material from his last two, low-key albums while still managing to sprinkle in tried and true fan favorites.
Mayer hasn’t toured since 2010 thanks to surgeries that removed throat granulomas. He’s admittedly shying away from older material requiring him to hit high notes, but if he’s feeling limited, then he didn’t let it show. Yes, that puppy-dog-eyed falsetto may have been reined in on a few cuts, but the nearly sold-out amphitheater was happy to assist, especially during a solo acoustic set where older tunes like Neon and Your Body Is A Wonderland were met with choruses of sound coming from the mouths singing and screaming along.
The boy is an undeniable pop songsmith, and songs like Waiting On The World To Change and Who Says are prime examples of John Mayer the show-stopping crowd pleaser who writes hook after hook while keeping an audience entertained. Half Of My Heart bled into Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, for example, and he even strapped his Stratocaster on backwards for a solo during If I Ever Get Around To Livin’.
Still, buried underneath all the bravado and boisterous guitar faces is a guy who simply loves playing an instrument he’s been trying to master ever since he first heard the sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix. He let those influences show, too. Nearly every song featured an extended solo, and a cover of the Grateful Dead’s Friend Of The Devil was subtly brushed with the same kind of slightly off-time, spaced-out noodling that Jerry Garcia & co. made famous nearly half-a-century ago.
Sure, there wasn’t one standout, jaw-dropping moment in the set, but that inconspicuousness actually ended up being the quiet beauty of it all. Standing there in a goofy headband and oversized work boots was a guy coming off bad press and even worse personal health issues that nearly ended his career. The missteps and misfortune, however, clearly forced him to look inside, slow it down and learn a thing or two about his place in this big, big world (he moved to Montana and crafted two albums of stripped-down, meditative, dusty folk-country, for heaven’s sake).
At one point, Mayer even tried harmonica. While he is eons away from being Little Walter, Junior Wells or even John Popper, Johnny held his own, delivering the gut-wrenching Born and Raised with a brutal honesty usually reserved for VH1 Storytellers. Applause followed, but instead of basking in it, Mayer humbly raised his fist and put it down, looking quietly pleased to have made it through the song.
It sounded good, he sounded good, he kept his mouth shut, and moved on to the next one. Finally, he let the music just speak for itself.
-- Ray Roa, tbt*
1. Queen Of California
3. Waitin’ On The Day
4. Who Says
6. Something Like Olivia
7. Half Of My Heart/Don’t Stop Believing (Journey)
8. Friend Of The Devil (Grateful Dead)
9. Your Body Is A Wonderland
11. Waiting On The World To Change
12. Born and Raised
13. If I Ever Get Around To Living
14. I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You
15. Dear Marie
16. The Age Of Worry
17. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
18. On The Way Home