Wednesday, March 24, 2010

John Mayer, Pepsi Center, 3/23/2010

John Mayer, 3/23/2010, Denver Pepsi Center

Snow played a big factor in getting to see John Mayer last night in Denver's Pepsi Center, but 15,000+ people managed to attend despite highway closings and power outages on the streets of Denver. John Mayer is touring with a large arena style production including alot of lights and a huge screen dominating the stage behind the band. This allowed for video generated from the stage as well as graphics, video, and other animations to resemble a tricked-out light show from the 70's updated with just the right elements of grunge and scratchy vintage super-8 to be "hip" for today's market. One of the top touring pop performers, John Mayer was totally in control of the night after Pop/Reggae/Rapper/Rocker Michael Franti and Spearhead opened the show and warmed up the crowd.

When you look at a performer like John Mayer, you have to wonder where the tipping point is that transforms a musician from a large regional act or smaller national act to the world-wide near super-stardom he's experiencing now. The song-writing, the voice, the delivery, the packaging, and the confidence of John Mayer... and maybe the marketing, the tabloids, and his personal life all join in the mix.

The overall production looked at times more like a polished music-video and it was easy to forget that, hey, this is "real"... these guys are professionally blended musicians making delicious fresh-fruit music smoothies right here and now. And maybe the enjoyment lasts about as long. Nice melodies in older songs while working in newer material coupled with Mayer's casual banter to the audience made for a nice satisfying evening, but does he have the staying power of a full steak dinner?!? Time will tell: where Mayer goes professionally in the future may be a war between his apparent desires to be the anti-pop commercial star he's become and his musical heritage. I'll say this though: despite the at-time superficial stylings and over-the-top stage production, he can *really* play the guitar. He has a great sense of timing, nuance, dynamics and style when he plays... and showmanship. At times tapping out riffs with both hands (as opposed to strumming with his right hand), or once using a drumstick to beat out a lead, or then later laying a guitar down on the floor and both hitting it and sliding fingers on it like it was a steel guitar on blues-rock steroids, he can *play*.

Opening with "Heartbreak Warfare," "Crossroads," and Vultures", he moved through various styles of songs from his repertoire also including "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," "Perfectly Lonely," "Assassin" and others. A few chestnuts like "Freefalling" and "Waiting on the World to Change" continued to show off his songwriting and his hey-I'm-just-part-of-the-human-family-too-but-with-a-guitar outreach that he appeals to. "Half of My Heart" led into "Dreams" before closing the night with "Why Georgia". An encore brought him back out for "Who Says" - played behind the closed transparent white stage screen with him backlit while video was project over top of it all on the enclosure giving an ethereal surreal feel to the number. His hit "Gravity" provided the big finish of the night.

Guitarist Robbie McIntosh was extraordinarily professional in his sweet and subtle lead and fill guitar work intertwined in Mayer’s songs when Mayer wasn't laying down rock or blues laden lines himself. David Ryan Harris provided other backing guitar work while Sean Hurley on bass, Steve Jordan on drums, and Charlie Wilson on keyboards rounded out the instrument components. Kenna Ramsey and Melanie Taylor provided backup and accent harmonies.

At times dancing in the aisles, hands swaying over heads, the audience participation provided a sense of shared community that was palpable and enjoyable. All in all the show was a satisfying guilty pleasure shared between Mayer and thousands of adoring fans.

More photos from the concert can be seen at my flickr site, here.

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