Concert Reviews

John Mayer's Shows Are Meticulously Planned, Just Like His Reckless Lover-Boy Persona

John Mayer's Shows Are Meticulously Planned, Just Like His Reckless Lover-Boy Persona (2)
Eva Raggio
John Mayer
with Night Game
American Airlines Center, Dallas
Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017

It was toward the end of the set when the show's opener, Night Game, expressed warm gratitude toward John Mayer who, the members said, discovered the Boston band through Spotify and invited it along on this tour. Until then, the audience had been watching reluctantly, concerned with settling into seats without dropping a nacho. But newly illuminated with the glow of Mayer's approval, the unknown band, whose first single was released in April, was suddenly bestowed the clout to ask the sold-out arena to stand for the rest of its set. And the crowd complied, illustrating the power of John Mayer's influence.

Mayer took the stage almost an hour later, as the screen announced the first part of the show, which was divided into four sets: full band, acoustic, John Mayer Trio and full band again. He started off with "Helpless," from his latest album, The Search for Everything, and followed with songs like "Love on the Weekend" and "Waiting on the World to Change." His signature breathy voice was kept in check, infused with more air than we're accustomed to hearing.

"You sold the place out; we're gonna give you everything we got," he said. And he lived up to that promise. Mayer may have mastered the reckless interview, but he's meticulous about music production and tone in particular. Perhaps by his own miscalculated design, his public persona seems to be narrowed down to the fact that he's broken a string of (America's Sweet)hearts.

There was a surplus of blonde women present, giggling incessantly, dressed for the occasion should they manage their way backstage. The fact that Taylor Swift warned us not to date him only adds to his appeal. After all, he made news recently when Katy Perry named him her best lay (at least out of a famous group of three).

Mayer has a tabloid reputation as a fuck-boy and a douche. Even a minimally pop-cultured person could probably name more women he's slept with than songs he has written. But Mayer is far from a transitory pop star; he's a respectable singer-songwriter, a blues player and an influential guitarist. And despite earning the respect of B.B. King, he became known for his sexual and not musical prowess as the legendary peripeteia of his penis overshadowed his talent in the public's perception.

Mayer was fully clothed in jeans and a Mickey Mouse sweater. He looked like Justin Bieber 20 years into the future, if the Biebs decided to put down the pipe and pick up a guitar.

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He introduced his hit song, "Daughters," with an anecdote: "There are three songs in my life that I got out of the shower for," Mayer said, "Yes, I wrote this naked." He might've attempted to convey his vulnerability and the urgency of artistic inspiration, but the crowd responded with a hysterical cheer. John Mayer. Naked. Yeah, he knows what he's doing.

Mayer was fully clothed in jeans and a Mickey Mouse sweater. He looked like Justin Bieber 20 years into the future, if the Biebs decided to put down the pipe and pick up a guitar. His blues trio band members, also part of the live band, are bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan, famed session musicians known for their work with The Who and Keith Richards, respectively.

The acoustic set found Mayer alone onstage with a little bridge and a cheesy backdrop of a Japanese garden. Jordan joined him at some point, but only with a shaker. The crowd remained standing throughout. Even the chubby husbands sang along to nearly every lyric, whether it was up an octave or a prolonged falsetto. There were seemingly no demands for early pop hits like "Your Body Is a Wonderland," which he incidentally never played.

During the trio's section, which started off with Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," the singer ceded the spotlight to Palladino and Jordan as the screen split into three, showing each performer's image equally. Mayer practically invented the guitar "O face" and ran in place, contorting his guitar strings and his face simultaneously, unable to conceal the self-satisfied awareness that he was in the midst of a real jerk-off circle of virtuosity. Even the backup singers had a star-making moment. Guitarist David Ryan Harris sang a soulful ballad, but the showstopper was guitarist Isaiah Sharkey, who strummed a smooth groove into an indescribable foreign liquid sound, like water splattering on rare china.

Mayer seems to want it all — the respect of the music industry without the mass audience forgetting that he's also cute, and he seems to have gotten it, collecting fans from every pocket: women, families, blues lovers and fans of skillfully complex guitar. He managed to appeal to all, hitting every key marketing note. But some of his jokes, such as: "Sometimes I sing and think I sound like John Mayer," may have only gotten a laugh from the group sneakily passing around a joint. He dropped glimpses into his romantic life with Tiger Beat trivia such as: "I like to annoy girls I'm dating with little songs that I make up," as he demonstrated with a joke of a song that went on for too long.

While his humor was lost on the crowd, ballads like "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" seemed to inspire the biggest reaction. He made the audience sing out the words, "You'll be a bitch because you can," probably because it's fun to say. Mayer knows how to butter his audience's biscuit and didn't need to work the stage much. He conveyed gratitude and acknowledged a couple in the first row wearing clothing plastered with his face.

The frat boys in the back who screamed out intermittent requests for "Gravity" finally got their wish. This is his arena song, the one where phones lit up, the ostentatious finale. He could've used more of those moments. With interposed lines from Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember," he pulled out every chop in his playbook.

While "Gravity" was the climax of the show, Mayer returned for a postsex snuggle, in the form of a white piano on a lit-up white floor and white screen, to perform "You're Gonna Live Forever in Me." The new track is something Randy Newman might've composed for a sorrowful Toy Story sequence, but it throbbed with the beauty of a simple, relatable sentiment.

Keeping with the evening's cinematic theme, which included a video of the trio relaying how it came to play together, credits rolled at the end. Mayer may be a matinee idol, but he's also a visionary director in that he's shown wide-scope foresight in producing not just his music but, for better or worse, his image into the mainstream.

"I love you so much," he said before walking off, and aren't we lucky? John Mayer never says I love you. He's more like a "ditto" kinda guy.
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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio