One thing to be thankful for at a John Mayer concert: Unlike those put on by pop divas, his shows aren’t plagued by lengthy costume changes.
On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, for example, he wore the same olive-hued cargo pants and slightly unbuttoned long-sleeve shirt the whole night — although he did switch up his accessories, guitars in this case, with great frequency.
It was a guitar fashion show of sorts, and Mr. Mayer wore each instrument as if he were a model at New York Fashion Week; he worked it.
This may have surprised audience members who know him best for gentle pop ballads like the Grammy-winning “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (from his 2001 major label debut, “Room for Squares”), but in fact, Mr. Mayer has spent considerable time in recent years proving he’s got some serious chops. He hints at it on his latest disc, 2006’s “Continuum,” although there has been more obvious evidence: the collaborations with music giants like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, the solo-heavy live recordings (including with a bluesy little trio) and, of course, that February Rolling Stone cover that crowned him one of the “New Guitar Gods.”
On Wednesday, with the help of a seven-piece backing band, Mr. Mayer did his best to reconcile the two images of sensitive singer-songwriter and six-string virtuoso. He played a set of familiar songs (culled mostly from his latest album and studded with a few gems from his two previous full-lengths), yet turned up the energy and volume and spiked each with soulful vocal embellishments and showy displays of fretwork.
The majority of concertgoers leapt to their feet at the first few notes of the opener, the consciousness-raising “Waiting on the World to Change,” and stayed there for the duration of the 1½-hour set, which included one encore.
Some of the evening’s best performances came during the early career favorite “Why Georgia” and the earthy and impassioned “Gravity.” A little something for the ladies that arrived in the encore proved delightful as well: delicate acoustic interpretations of “Come Back to Bed” and “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” played by Mr. Mayer and just one or two other guitarists.
The real show-stopper was the closing number, which the artist explained was in honor of his crew’s upcoming gig at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival this weekend: a blistering rendition of Cream’s raucous blues-rock tune “Crossroads,” based on blues legend Robert Johnson’s earlier song.
Mr. Mayer may have rushed through a dissonant version of “My Stupid Mouth,” slipped off-key once or twice and delivered a few overwrought vocals while wrapping up songs — but overall, he proved himself worthy of those contorted bedroom faces he made while caressing his instrument. More than just a pop prince, he’s an honest-to-goodness musician and artist.
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