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We saw John Mayer at Moody Center opening night; here's what the new Austin venue is like

Years in the making, the University of Texas' new Moody Center is finally here. Grammy-winning rocker John Mayer christened the building on Wednesday night with a two-hour concert that mixed new material with old hits and left a nearly sold-out crowd with wide smiles on their faces.

It was the first of a two-night stand at the Moody for Mayer, who doesn't technically get the honor of first act to play the new 15,000-seat arena. The Wednesday-Thursday shows are the first ticketed performances at the venue, but soul greats Earth, Wind & Fire played a private show on Tuesday that was primarily for employees of Dell, one of the arena's primary sponsors.

Known as much for his guitar playing as for his singing and songwriting, Mayer twists the more typical mid-song guitar-solo format a bit. He frequently offers up verses and choruses in the first half of his tunes, then lets his guitar wizardry carry it the rest of the way.

Mayer played half of his 2021 album "Sob Rock," including the set-opening "Last Train Home" and the encore finale "New Light." Sprinkled throughout were hit singles from his first seven albums, including 2007's "Gravity" and "Belief" and 2009's "Who Says." One fan shouted out early on for perhaps Mayer's signature tune, 2002's "Your Body Is A Wonderland." He smiled and answered, "Later," eventually trotting out the song in the second half of the show.

A mid-set solo acoustic passage allowed Mayer to shift gears for some quieter moments with the tunes "Neon" and "In Your Atmosphere." Guitarist David Ryan Harris then returned so that Mayer could lead the crowd in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for the renowned Atlanta musician, who'd turned 54 the night before.

Harris was one of many aces in Mayer's nine-piece band, which also included longtime bassist Pino Palladino, former Michael Jackson band member Greg Phillinganes on keyboards (plus an attention-getting keytar solo on "Helpless"), guitarist Isaiah Sharkey, keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac, backing vocalists Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts Jr., percussionist Lenny Castro and former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone.

John Mayer performs at UT's new Moody Center on April 20, 2022.

Palladino also performed with opening act Yebba, an Arkansas singer-songwriter whose debut album "Dawn" came out last year on RCA Records. Her half-hour set was generally well-received by early-arriving concertgoers, some of whom also caught Austin musician Jonny Gray's solo acoustic set on the plaza at the Moody Center's west gate that began before the doors opened at about 6:40 p.m.

So how was the venue itself? Our experience was generally positive: The Moody had a good flow and feel, and the crowd seemed in good spirits throughout, eager to explore the arena's many attributes. We also noticed a few things that could have been better or could use some fine-tuning as the Moody hits a busy spring and summer run.

Better than expected at the Moody Center 

Mayer himself. We weren't necessarily fans going in, but he put on a commendable performance that was easy to enjoy. His use of video screens to complement the performance was smartly done, perhaps enhanced by the quality of the arena's state-of-the-art gear. Lighting also worked well, partly because of a wood-panel array hung above the stage that helped vary the patterns and presentation.

Automated concessions and tickets. This was a huge win. Between the two of us, we got food and/or sodas five times at five different locations and never had to wait in line. The cashless concessions stands had multiple checkout stations with one or two employees overseeing and troubleshooting, much like self-checkout areas at grocery stores. Digital-only ticketing also appeared to work well, with lines for entry moving smoothly at all three public gates (west, southwest and east).

Read the exclusive story:Touring UT's new Moody Center arena (yes, we talked to Matthew McConaughey)

The Texas Terrace at twilight. We’d seen this feature and its impressive skyline view in a tour of the facility last week, but it was glorious just after the sun went down. A few more couches and chairs on the terrace might be helpful, but there was plenty of standing room for gazing out upon the UT campus and downtown. The terrace had only beverage sales on this night. we look forward to the planned future addition of food carts.

The upper level. Those may be where the "cheap seats" are (tickets on the side for Thursday's second show start at $43.50), but the sight lines are good, thanks in part to the steeper pitch of the seats that helps keep the seats from being too far away. You really appreciate the full scope of the venue from the upper-level vantage point.

John Mayer at his band at Moody Center on April 20, 2022.

Not as good as expected at the Moody Center

Sound quality. Perhaps our hopes were too high, as Moody personnel had played up the venue’s acoustics-oriented design in recent interviews. It was probably better than typical arena sound, but it wasn’t a quantum leap forward. I’ve heard plenty of acts at the Erwin Center that sounded worse, but also a few that sounded better. (James Taylor and the Eagles come to mind.) That may partly be due to the acts and their sound crews. But we expected great things from the Moody’s new construction, and ultimately, this still sounded like an arena — a good one, but not a game-changer.

Escalators. Moody Center has escalators on the west and east ends of the concourse, but only one was in operation on this night. A saving grace was that there were many elevators — a big improvement over the Erwin Center where it always seemed next to impossible to find one.

More Austin music news:The ultimate guide to spring and summer concerts

Floor seats. The upside: You're closest to the action. The downside: Though there are seats, you're likely standing for the whole show if you want to see. Seat and row markings were in chalk, which smeared away in several spots as concert-goers walked the aisles. Lower-level and upper-level seats have cupholders, but the floor seats don't.

Air conditioning. One concertgoer responded to one of our tweets about the venue by saying, "It's so hot in here! Turn on the AC please." No doubt it was on, but we agree that it wasn't keeping the venue quite cool enough.

About what we expected at the Moody Center

Parking. Some nearby garages were pricey, ranging from $25 to $65, but we witnessed no real problems. There was ample parking in the adjacent Manor Garage around 7 p.m., but a few concert-goers opted to turn around and explore other options when they saw the $65 price tag.

Pickup/drop-off. If you're looking for a door-side drop-off, that's a luxury afforded to high-rollers only. The drop-off and pickup area for civilian ride shares was down the street on the east side of Erwin Center. Better signage and communication about this might have prevented the swell of concertgoers who spilled onto the Interstate 35 access road after the show, looking for their drivers.

More:Here's what you need to know about UT's new Moody Center in Austin

Food quality. We didn't really expect much on this front, and that's what we got. Here's a rundown and rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) of things we ordered:

• Dig Vegetarian Grill's "Impossible Gyro": 7. The vegetables were fresh, the pita wrap was pillowy, and it was a far more elevated vegetarian option than you'd find at most arenas. Having said that, the "meat" was a scant handful of dry veggie crumbles. ($16)

• Stubb’s sausage wrap: 6. Good size, enough to bring a little of it home. Average taste, but all things considered, one of our better choices. ($14)

• Right on ’Cue buffalo chicken tacos: 4. Not warm enough, kind of dry, but the sauce that went with them was good at least. A serving of two was good, but they’d do well to sell them as single tacos at half the price. ($14)

• Tony C’s sausage pizza: 4. Just not very good: kind of leathery crust, not enough cheese, lukewarm. The only reason this is a 4 and not a 3 is because it was at least cheaper than other entrees. ($9)

People watch a performance outside during the opening debut of the Moody Center on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. John Mayer was the first performance at the venue.

We'll try some of the other stations, such as local sausage/pretzel outfit Koko’s Bavarian and Shaquille O'Neal's Big Chicken franchise, in future visits. Big Chicken did seem to have a steady stream of customers at its station just inside the west entrance.