‘This is that album. This is that tour. This is that time.’
So said popular music’s foremost ego, John Mayer, of the Search For Everything. The current run of arena shows, in support of the titular album, feature the configuration made famous on 2008 live album Where The Light Is – one acoustic set, one set with the John Mayer Trio, and one set with full band (two tonight). In Mayer’s words, 2017 is the year we fans will get everything we want.
So how does this gig stack up? Well, first of all, it has to deal with the O2. Marketed as the world’s premier music venue, it is in fact a corporate megadome with a tendency to suck the life out of a concert. Making people feel involved is a challenge when the majority are too far away to see your face.
My perspective on this may be skewed (I’m perched in the ‘we’re keeping the lights on up here so you don’t fall to your doom’ section), but Mayer has a hefty fourth wall to break if he’s to fulfil his promises.
When the kick-off comes in the form of Waiting On The World To Change, it’s muted, as though the PA desk have been caught off guard. The volume builds, however, and when Mayer hits the first solo it slices through the mix and reminds us why we’re here. Not just the puff-pop moaner of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry dating fame, Mayer is a bona-fide guitar hero and a damn good songwriter to boot.
Those initial shivers are stoked into full-blown giddiness by Helpless, a driving four-to-the-floor rocker from the new album, which features some serious guitar face from Mayer and a righteous battering from drummer Steve Jordan (who is The Coolest Looking Man On Earth). It’s slick, but there’s some serious jamming amidst the Late Late Show vibe.
An acoustic set follows. It’s prettily done, with the giant video screen, which incorporates the stage, coming into its own. As the whole caboodle turns into an HD and 3D Japanese garden, complete with lotus blossoms and a little bridge, my vantage point begins to be more agreeable. It makes a fitting backdrop to what follows. Mayer’s acoustic pop is bright-eyed and melancholic – rather sixth-formish – but it brings back happy memories of times when we were all that self-absorbed, with nothing worse to worry about than whether she fancies me back. It’s a pleasing interlude, all wistfulness and brave young romance and perfect hair, and my companion sighs with much happiness.
Then it’s time for some blues power. The John Mayer Trio was sadly an all-too-brief burst of brilliance when Mayer first rolled it out – they haven’t toured together for nine years, so seeing them tonight is a treat.
After the mellow harmony of the acoustic set, opener Crossroads is thunderous, Palladino and Jordan ruffling our hair even up here in the cheap seats. What’s more, when the solo hits, Mayer opens the taps and wails. He is a joy to hear, searingly funky, wonderfully melodic, angry and sweet, the natural descendant of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. This is his real genius – his playing is special enough to guarantee his place in history, and tonight it fills the vast space of the O2.
As a whole, this show was a mixed bag – musically exquisite, but a touch lacking on atmosphere. Mayer is a guilty pleasure as ever, and despite his astonishing self-admiration it’s always rewarding to be in the presence of such a consummate musician and fervent music lover. There’s no doubt that he is enjoying himself, and his songs, though lyrically insubstantial, are melodically gorgeous and complex. The stage show is tasteful and well-matched to the music – particularly the closing ‘epilogue’, in which Mayer plays us out on the piano surrounded by blazing white walls, before walking off through a door in the video screen.
But the sheer size of the arena reduces the effect. Vain hope, but if he were to tour theatres again, it would be near perfect.
John Mayer is touring the world throughout 2017, including a stint with Dead and Co. Full dates can be found at www.johnmayer.com