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Concert Reviews:
John Mayer straddles pop, jam worlds at Little Caesars Arena

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2019

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DETROIT -- As he neared the end of his concert Friday night, Aug. 2, at Little Caesars Arena, John Mayer confessed to feeling "frightened" about his Summer Tour 2019 and hitting the road "without any real focal piece of music" -- i.e., a new album.

He needn't have worried.

While Mayer may have once toured primarily for product promotion, his tenure in the Grateful Dead successor Dead & Company -- which played Little Caesars just over eight months ago -- has certainly taught him about playing live as an end to itself. That made Friday's two-part show -- 26 songs over more than two and a half hours (plus 30-minute intermission) -- a celebration of his body of work, from his first hit, 2002's "No Such Thing," to last year's standalone single "New Light," all delivered in smooth, high-gloss fashion by Mayer and his eight-piece band with the same kind of tasteful reserve displayed by guitar hero predecessor Eric Clapton.

And all rapturously received by an audience that, as Mayer also noted, has made him "overall accepted" as an artist beyond the commercial success of his recordings.

Clad in black from his T-shirt to his sneakers, Mayer certainly made a case for his songwriting accomplishments much of the night with tight performances of "Love on the Weekend," "Vultures," "Something Like Olivia," "Waiting on the World to Change" and "Gravity." But the concert's best moments came when he cut loose on guitar -- early on during "Changing," "Helpless" and "Still Feel Like Your Man" and then during the second set with a shredding "Belief," the jazzy "Moving On and Getting Over," the anthemic swell of "Edge of Desire" and a majestic "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," which was introduced with a bit of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" sung by band member David Ryan Harris.

Semi-coherently chatty in spots, Mayer essayed about the pros and cons of worrying before a coupling of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" and his own "The Age of Worry." He opened the second set with three solo acoustic numbers -- Beyonce's "XO," "Neon" and the swoon-inducing "Your Body is a Wonderland" -- and he nodded to his new Dead cred during the encore with a languid "Friend of the Devil," finishing with a photo of the late Jerry Garcia on the video screen that towered behind the band.

Mayer had plenty of help, too, from a band that had plenty of luminaries such as all-star bassist Pino Palladino and first-call keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac. Guitarist Isiah Sharkey took the spotlight in opening "Moving On and Getting Over," while backing vocalists Carlos Ricketts and Tiffany Palmer shined during the gospel-tinged "In the Blood."

Ultimately on Friday Mayer proved he can live equally, and comfortably, on both sides of the divide -- as pop hitmaker and jam band instrumentalist. And anyone who's waiting for that world to change should best not hold their breath.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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