CORRECTION, April 25: The original version of the story misidentified the drummer in Mayer's band. The corrected version is below.
A small, laminated sign hung on the wall behind the merch table. Easy enough to miss amid the various commemorative garments for sale (at, it must be said, eye-watering prices), the breezy note also doubled as a mission statement of sorts: “John says size up for a looser fit.”
The John in question was Mayer, who returned Sunday to headline the same spacious room he last played three years ago, a superb new album, last year’s Sob Rock,
For two hours, he embodied the pleasures of a looser fit — the freedom of having the room to move — with nine top-tier musicians arrayed behind and beside him, working through his Day-Glo homages to yacht rock and rendering his own, extensive back catalog with the sort of skill that can leave you breathless with admiration.
The stage design at Mayer's AAC show evoked Reagan-era artwork.
Clad in a sport jacket that could only be described as a cast-off from the David Byrne Collection, Mayer kicked off the evening with “Last Train Home,” his exquisite, Toto-echoing single. The stage evoked the Reagan-era artwork Mayer has favored since Sob Rock
’s release: Geometric angles and tart, primary colors, splashed across screens standing at sharp right angles, full of vivid, high-definition close-ups, as a scrim of lighted slats dangled above.
Mayer and his collaborators embodied a particular irony throughout: The ensemble is locked in so tightly (Sunday’s show comes very near the end of this current leg, which will wrap in early May) that its laxity almost seems rehearsed.
David Byrne would approve of Mayer's fashion choices.
Still, whether it was legendary piano man Greg Phillinganes dancing gleefully on stage right, or backing vocalists Carlos Ricketts and Tiffany Palmer cutting a rug with one of the camera operators, there was a palpable sense of joy emanating from the stage. (The band was rounded out by pianist Jamie Muhoberac, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarists Isaiah Sharkey and David Ryan Harris, drummer Aaron Sterling and percussionist Lenny Castro.)
Considered as a whole, Sunday’s set list was decidedly downbeat, ranging from “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and “Who Says” to “Still Feel Like Your Man,” “If I Ever Get Around to Living” and the main set-closing “Gravity,” into all of which were tucked gorgeous guitar runs and electrifying call-and-response between Mayer, who spent much of the set clad in a black Charley’s Guitar Shop T-shirt, and his bandmates.
Mayer and company toured in support of his latest album, Sob Rock.
The most bracing moment may have come during a brief acoustic interlude, when Mayer, who teased the opening notes of “Why Georgia,” before diving into the tune, interrupted the lyrics with a discursive aside (“I’m always trying to write new songs, but I can’t deny, at this point in my life, the old songs mean a hell of a lot more,” he began) and culminated in his transition to “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does,” the span of his output in the blink of an eye. (Ever the wry observer, Mayer capped “Does” with an interpolation of “Forever Young,” which commented upon the throwback of it all, in both the stylistic and personal senses.)
But reflective doesn’t necessarily have to mean dour, and that looseness — an ability to accommodate a range of moods, from melancholy to merry — has long been a Mayer hallmark. The fashion for sale in the arena’s lobby may now give everyone more room to move, but John Mayer has never embodied anything less than a relaxed fit.