John Mayer delights in Massachusetts return

A review of John Mayer at the Comcast Center on August 17, 2013

, Contributing Writer

On the road for the first time in three years and promoting two new albums, John Mayer returned to Massachusetts on Saturday night. Over the course of two hours, the former Berklee student delighted the adoring crowd with a set that proved he’s best when he’s playing the blues.

The set designed by Mayer for his current tour may say as much about the man as the music he performs. The ever-changing desert imagery, featured behind Mayer between driving blues solos and solid but unspectacular folk music, featured different times of day and night, as well as snow, rain and sunshine at various times. The desert scene could very well symbolize a man still seeking his true identity as a musician and as a man, wandering amongst the solitude. Saturday’s show in Mansfield featured arguably the strongest setlist of the tour thus far, reaffirming the belief that Mayer is one of the best blues guitar players in a generation struggling to produce elite lead players.

Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster with visions of players like Mayer in his mind, taking on solos effortlessly. However, like so many other accomplished veteran musicians, the 35 year-old is obviously unsatisfied simply remaining in the genre that so naturally fits him. He has chosen to bridle himself with many saddles over the years that have never seemed to quite work, from his 2001 adult contemporary pop debut album Room of Squares to 2012’s more lyrically-driven folk/Americana Born and Raised.

This was obvious from the start of the show, as he opened playing “Queen of California”, a upbeat folk song from his most recent album, only to shed the acoustic guitar he played throughout the beginning of the song for one of his many Strats, diving into a marvelous solo that didn’t fit the song, but left you not caring – he was doing what he was made to do. It was the first of many songs from Born and Raised, as well as the brand new Paradise Valley (released on Tuesday), that comprised roughly half of the 20-song setlist (which also lacked any selections from his first two albums). It also marked the first of several songs that found Mayer leading his talented backing band through extended jam sessions.

The highlight of the night came halfway through the set, featuring a fine tribute to Boston as he discussed how the city will always be a place “where college students are finding themselves” and the special place that his time at the Berklee College of Music holds in his heart. His speech led into a wonderful and surprising rendition of “Comfortable” from his debut EP, which was perfectly placed between fan favorite “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”. The torrid pace of the first hour of the set created a huge energy that you felt was unlikely to be sustained throughout the entirety of the show.

Unfortunately, the concert limped to a close with a trio of recent selections – “Age of Worry”, “Dear Marie” and “Born and Raised” – before crowd favorite “Waiting on the World to Change” closed out the main set. Mayer’s placement of these songs in the set list further affirm that he would like to be known as an artist not confined to his blues classics, but the crowd and band noticeably lacked energy while he prefaced each of the songs with quips trying to garner an interest that wasn’t to be. His harmonica and acoustic guitar on “Born and Raised”, a fine song, echoed Dylan too strongly and again felt forced. Mayer returned for an encore performance of “Gravity”, taking creative liberties for a masterful, prolonged solo while looking extremely comfortable and energized by the crowd.

From his ramblings between songs and his denim suit with hippie bandana, Mayer appears to be a man still seeking something that he hasn’t experienced, but can’t yet define. That unsettled heart typically produces the best music. Seek on, John, but don’t over think it – your Stratocaster and your adoring fans remain close to your heart.

In the opening slot was American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who delivered hits “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Home”.

Setlist
1.  Queen of California
2.  Paper Doll
3.  I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You)
4.  Fool to Love You
5.  Who Says
6.  Something Like Olivia
7.  Goin’ Down the Road (Grateful Dead cover)
8.  Love is a Verb
9.  Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
10. Comfortable
11. Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty cover)
12. Wildfire
13. If I Ever Get Around to Living
14. Half of My Heart
15. Vultures
16. Age of Worry
17. Dear Marie
18. Born and Raised
19. Waiting on the World to Change
Encore
20. Gravity

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