Five time Grammy winner. Guitar god. Humble. One of these sentences is not like the others and yet all three describe singer/songwriter John Mayer. In his two hour sold out set at Madison Garden this past Wednesday, Mayer proved that you can be good at what you do and still be humble.
After a 45-minute opening set by Matt Kearney, who’s been on tour with Mayer since August, Mayer hit the stage amidst an auditorium of screaming fans. The audience was full of fans young and old; Mayer captivated them all.
He opened with the second single of his Grammy-winning album, Continuum, “Belief”. A strong jumping off point that showcases his triple threat: singing, songwriting, and guitar playing. Mayer is known for his conversational shows where he talks before each song he plays, usually randomly. On his Continuum tour however, there is less talk and more music. Mayer’s solos are longer and harder than before.
When Mayer did decide to grace the audience with a little conversation, it was usually to say how thankful he was for all his fans and success. “I’m not mature enough to put into words just how thankful I am, but thank you,” Mayer said at least twice during the show.
While introducing “Clarity”, the second single off of Heavier Things which came out in 2003. According to Mayer, the song is about the first five or six seconds in the morning when you wake up and you forget about all your troubles. It’s about wishing that moment could last forever, but knowing it won’t. “If you’ve had a bad week, day, for the next five minutes put it on me. I got you,” Mayer requested of the crowd before playing the song. Hearing this song live with this introduction added an entire new element to the deepness of this song. The lyrics hit home harder and offered a real insight into the inner workings of Mayer.
It was during the simplest and most modest song on Continuum, “Heart of Life” that Mayer gave the audience a look into his creative process. He told a story about how he was driving on day and thinking about all the things that were wrong in life and all the things that were great. Love, loss, music, success, just thinking about everything. He explained how he wrote lyrics that had no melody and he played them and then showed how they became the completed version of “Heart of Life”. He also gave a little glimpse into another song on his album, “In Repair” by finishing the song with the chorus, “I’m in repair, I’m not together, but I’m getting there.” He never played the full version of “In Repair” but it is just a way of showing how his album is tied together. One song and feeling leads to another and creates an album that tells the story of a man’s journey to maturity. It was interesting to see just how these albums come about and it was a pleasure to see the process that led to the greatness that is John Mayer.
For his encore, Mayer broke convention and had a four song mini-set. Two of the songs, “Stop This Train” from Continuum and the Grammy-winning “Your Body is a Wonderland” from Mayer’s debut were sung from a stage in the middle of the floor. “Wonderland” is a crowd favorite that Mayer does not play often. In the case of the MSG show he played it instead of his other Grammy-winner, “Daughters” from his sophomore album. Though both songs won him great prestige, he knows they also stereotyped him as a pop artist and he has been trying, successfully, to shake that image since.
The last two songs of his encore, Mayer performed on the main stage. “Vultures” a track on both his John Mayer Trio album, Try! and Continuum gave him a chance to rock out on the guitar in a blues fashion that was common during his time with the Trio. The fun Mayer has well on stage and the repertoire he has with his band was especially evident in this song. For his final song, a track that is close to Mayer. “I finally got good enough to write a song about what I’m about,” he said of “Gravity”. Every word and note in this song sums up the last seven years of Mayer’s career and the long road it’s been. In a surprise move, Mayer brought out fellow singer Alicia Keys to finish the song with a chorus of “Just keep me where the light is” until eventually the song came to its end, about eight minutes after it started.
Mayer played eight songs off of Continuum, two from Heavier Things, and three from Room for Squares. A treat for fans was the added two tracks from the Trio album, “Good Love is on the Way” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” These two songs offered a different side of Mayer’s abilities and showed him as the guitar player that he is and not just a singer/songwriter. One of the most astounding aspects of seeing John Mayer live his is utter talent. No one can deny the man’s talent, regardless of if they are a fan of his music. He has the ability to take a soft, somber album and bring it to life, loudly on a stage. The 15 songs he played were played from the soul of a man who is just beginning to see the big picture. Continuum was an album from his heart and what he gives the audience on tour is absolutely no different. Mayer told the audience towards the close of his set that he’d keep writing as long as the fans would keep listening. Well, one thing is for sure, anyone who saw him at MSG is going to keep listening.