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Review: John Mayer at the Erwin Center

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Chad Swiatecki

Editor’s note: This article was originally published December 9, 2013

Well into the second hour of his textbook precise, supple and often stirring show at the Frank Erwin Center on Friday, John Mayer paused to share his third fairly awkward but endearing monologue of the night, and in the process revealed to the audience the key to how he’s carved out a place in the cultural firmament in the last dozen or so years.

We’ll get to the contents of Mayer’s speech in a bit, to explore what the sum total of his three bits of oratory taught those listening about what’s going on in the gifted guitarist and songwriter’s head.

Walking onto the stage in an oversized navy and white striped sweater and baggy, ratty jeans, to non-fans Mayer could’ve been any typical disheveled drag rat asking for change along the edge of the University of Texas campus. He didn’t look uncertain, so to speak, but from up close it was possible to detect Mayer’s introvert tendencies as someone who is way up in his own head.

But as he strapped on an undersized acoustic guitar – the most-used of the four or five instruments played Friday – and kicked his backing band into the silken harmonies of “Queen Of California” any unease faded away. On stage in front of a seven-piece band is where the 36-year-old feels most secure as he ventures through a songbook that deals dominantly about love as a double-edged sword.

Much is made of Mayer’s guitar prowess and the dusting of blues he applies to his songs make it easy and accessible to venture into simmering solos throughout the night.

In all but a few cases – and especially on the mournful “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” which was essentially a series of solos interrupted by lyrics – Mayer’s guitar work was exploratory and restrained instead of flashy and soaring. Rooting many of his songs in blues served him well, as did the soulful elements of “Wildfire” and the roadhouse country vibe of “You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down,” both of which let backing guitarists Zane Carney and Doug Pettibone take turns in the spotlight.

It took seven songs for Mayer to address the mostly full arena with anything more than a cursory greeting and the occasion came with a sort of confessional before “Dear Marie” where he copped to that distinctly 21st century vice of staying up way too late online only to wind up looking for present-day info on long-gone loves and crushes.

That song was followed by some lengthy romantic advice for the men in the audience – and hey, the guy’s got the TMZ bona fides to be an authority on such things – to confidently dance in all social situations with music, even badly. He humorously used the occasion to show the difference between timid and confident bad dancing, and explained that women will respond because, “Bad dancing for a man is just masculinity to spare.”

Noted.

It was the third monologue, which preceded the very-now tale “Age Of Worry” that maybe gave the deepest look into Mayer as an artist. Explaining his affection for the photo-sharing app Instagram, he said he was concerned about seeing photos of high school students having confidence issues from “worrying about (online) haters” and “managing their brand” at the ripe old age of 17. “That’s not supposed to happen until you’re 28,” he remarked wryly before saying that he hopes in some way songs like his can “help people to ease up” in an age of information overload.

Which makes sense because without being empty-headed trifles Mayer’s songs are soothing bits of shining pop in the tradition of AM gold heroes like Jackson Browne and James Taylor. And for two hours on Friday night they were a balm for this age of worry, for the crowd hearing them and certainly for the man who was playing them.

Set list:

Queen of California

Wildfire

Why Georgia

You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down

Waiting On The Day

Who Says

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room

Dear Marie

Stop This Train

Body Is A Wonderland

Neon

Half Of My Heart

I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)

Speak For Me

The Age of Worry

Waiting On The World To Change

Can’t Find My Way Home

(Encore)

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