BWW Review: JOHN MAYER, The O2
It's safe to say that John Mayer's been keeping busy. After starting 2019 with Dead & Company (which features former members from Grateful Dead) and touring North America for the fourth consecutive year, he's finally filled The O2 with a new light. His Summer Tour comes to London after a two-year absence, having played the same venue in 2017 for The Search of Everything World Tour.
On this occasion, he presents a sizzling music-centred evening, losing himself in the songs and turning the colossal arena into an intimate gig. The 24-strong set-list is a calculated mix of classics and some favourites that "Didn't go anywhere". He jokes around in his own weird way, stating he might indeed have to play his "Two and a half hits" for the crowd over some less known ones. The musician - notorious for his astounding skills as a guitar player - doesn't disappoint and delivers an all-enveloping collection of solos. From the acoustic to the electric ones, his parts truly come alive in a concert setting, allowing him to explore his own melodies thoroughly as well as experiment with it.
The small stage feels large enough for him to give way to his notes, letting them fill the space and losing himself among them. The audience almost intrudes in his personal bubble as he does so before the lyrics pick back up again; his established smoky vocals soothe the congregation with his softer songs, but then suddenly sex them up with numbers on the lines of 'Slow Dancing in a Burning Room'. This dichotomy of his carries through the whole show as he sets atmospheric productions upon beloved pieces.
Newer ones like 'Carry Me Away' and 'I Guess I Just Feel Like' (which he deems one of the aforementioned works that "Didn't go anywhere", but that actually sends the fans in overdrive) coexist next to his older 'Daughters' and 'Waiting On The World To Change', which has never felt more relevant than now. 'Edge Of Desire' takes the place of honour right before the intermission while its album-mate 'Who Says' played earlier on. Fan-favourite 'Gravity' only makes an appearance during his encore, preceding 'New Light' (which is performed while its oddball of a video plays onto the display in the background) and coming though with its sophisticated confidence.
Mayer doesn't sugarcoat the lineup too much, opting to have only a fairly large high-definition screen that surrounds a wooden panorama of hills and mountains that descends during the second part. A live-feed of the band and their lead alternates pictures and videos that heighten the vibe of the pieces, but always leave the music and its lyrics at the forefront. If he sounds good on albums and pre-recorded broadcasts online, he genuinely shines in person.
He is at ease with himself and his instruments, as he swaps one for the other often mid-song to take over his famous solos. He's playful with the crowd but maintains an air of mysterious privacy surrounding the compositions, keeping tight-lipped on meaning and inspiration along with making little-to-no introductions for them. Quiet licks turn into powerful and meaty virtuosos as he tears into the tunes, extending the musical sides and emphatically giving life to the single numbers - which gives the live experience a unique and unrepeatable edge each night.
His backing band is as wondrous as he is. With eight members in total, his mates include bassist Dino Palladino and guitarist David Ryan Harris, while Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Rickets join him on vocals (and take off gloriously during 'Gravity', smoothly outshining the headliner briefly). It was a joy to see that the evening didn't consist of Mayer just waltzing through the songs: from a carefully crafted set-list built by artist from scratch on a nightly basis that presents each number in its best form, to the sometime hazy and trippy visuals that turn into clear-cut close-ups of the musician's hands, this world tour might be his best one to date.
Mayer's redemptive trajectory's led him to tone down his personal life quite a lot in recent times, which has probably benefited his music and stage persona alike. The once bad boy is now a (nearly) 42-year-old man who gives new soulful meaning to his sexiest of ballads. His skills remain unparalleled and his stage presence has become a tribute to the music itself.
John Mayer is playing one more date at The O2 on 14 October, then Manchester on 18 October.
Photo credit: Live Nation