by Ben Fontana
COLUMBUS (Star 102) – Wednesday night was the seventh time I’ve seen John Mayer live, and his show in Columbus at The Schottenstein Center may have just been the most complete, jaw-dropping performance that I’ve ever witnessed from Mayer.
Mayer has come full circle as an artist since the first time I saw him in Saratoga, NY on his Continuum Tour in 2007. Back then, he was a pop act who churned out the hits, and loved his audience to sing along. The audiences always reciprocated Mayer’s energy, but the vibes the 39-year-old gave out on his Search For Everything Tour on Wednesday night were unique, but somehow very similar and nostalgic.
You can label Mayer as a guitar virtuoso, the greatest guitarist of his generation, a Stevie Ray Vaughn wannabe, a silky smooth pop crooner, or maybe you just think “I can’t stand this guy.” I’ve heard it all. Like it or not, Mayer is now comfortable enough in his own skin where he doesn’t care what you say about him. He’s going to go out on that stage and jam all the same.
The show started with “Chapter 1: Full Band,” as Mayer was accompanied by his trusty John Mayer Trio band mates Steve Jordan on the drums and Pino Palladino on the bass, along with back-up singers, two guitarists, and Larry Goldings on the keyboard.
The Columbus crowd could tell the band had been here before, and were right in tune with the figurative jolts of electricity sent throughout the arena. Hits like “Why Georgia” allowed Mayer to pause while the 15,000+ in attendance could belt out the lyrics “So what? So I’ve got a smile on – it’s hiding the quiet superstitions in my head.”
The energy was palpable. “Queen Of California” highlighted Goldings’ impeccable work on the keys while Mayer and the rest of the band grooved the hell out.
After a set change, and the large video board warning that an acoustic set was on the way, Mayer began to get chatty, which many fans were waiting for.
Busting out a song like “Comfortable” from his 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out was a pro move, making the most die-hard fans pinching themselves. Mayer told us he didn’t quite remember all the lyrics, but the crowd helped out. “Your Body Is A Wonderland” was more of the same, as the singer said; “Me and this song have a lot of history … but I’m comfortable enough with it now to play it for you guys.”
Another set change brought back out Jordan and Palladino, who Mayer released Try! with in 2005 as a Trio. This was where the true jam session began. Covers of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” did not disappoint. Mayer’s plucking on “Ain’t No Sunshine” started on the neck of the guitar, laying down a beat for Jordan. Jordan improvised to match Mayer’s beat, and Palladino joined the fun. It was a jam that lasted well over ten minutes, and I don’t think I stopped moving my head the entire time. The Trio knows how to groove. The multiple solos on “Bold As Love” didn’t hurt either.
As “Chapter 4” began, Mayer moved into more of his pop comfort zone, playing new tracks off of his forthcoming album The Search For Everything. Song such as “Helpless,” “Moving On And Getting Over,” and “Still Feel Like Your Man” gave Mayer a chance to sing melodic verses, while also occasionally taking the band on a left turn, busting out into an improvised guitar solo. It was at this point that he thanked us, the crowd, for feeding him the love that we had been giving all night. Without us, he said, he wouldn’t be able make new music. As I noted above, he labeled his return to the stage a ‘comeback.’
For the encore, the band treated the ever-patient crowd with the live debut of Mayer’s new folk-inspired tune “Roll It On Home,” along with Continuum fan favorite “In Repair.”
And then, the moment no one expected to come arrived when Mayer walked on to an all-white stage, accompanied by an all-white digital piano, and told us he had a special celebrity friend about to join him. To the surprise of many, out strutted comedian Dave Chappelle.
Chappelle came out to the show, he said, to remember fellow comedian Charlie Murphy, who died Wednesday at the age of 57 after a battle with leukemia. Chappelle said that “everybody in comedy is heartbroken” about Murphy’s death, and that Mayer he was “a sight for sore eyes.” By request, Mayer played “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” in tribute to Murphy, while Chappelle sat on a nearby stool, smoked, puffed billows of smoke into the air, and looked out onto the audience, reminiscing.
On Wednesday, John Mayer proved to me, yet again, that whether it’s playing the hits, jamming out for ten minutes to Jimi Hendrix on the electric guitar, or surprising his audience with some unexpected tricks, he won’t let you down. If you go see John Mayer in concert, you’ll walk out of any venue with more energy than you imagined. You may even be in a state of wonderment and new-found respect. Expect nothing less.