John Mayer fans are rather frightening. Silence in the foyer, can’t tell if there is a gig on. Walk in to take our seats early – mostly so I could see if the crowd was alive. They were sitting quietly. Waiting. I felt like I was entering a Bible Group meeting. Not far off – just a different god to bow to I guess. A different form of worship.
Mayer fans sat patiently – waiting, waiting – and then erupted when the man, and his band, strolled to their spots on the stage. New drummer Keith Carlock is in the band. And Robbie McIntosh, former sideman for Paul McCartney, also a former member of The Pretenders, added colour with slide guitar and some of the more interesting leads of the night.
Mayer, for all the (very defensive) talk of him being a talented musician – is adequate. He can play the guitar. But it’s as if he has giant pictures in his head of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan solos – and he’s busy stretching the baking paper over them and getting the crayons out, twitching and poking about as he traces his versions of their solos in to place to an audience that simply doesn’t care to know better.
The opening crowd-pleaser, No Such Thing – from the album that first got people noticing him (Room For Squares) – has most of the people in the front section of this room of squares up on their feet, awkwardly excited.
From there we get Mayer’s embarrassment of a version of Crossroads from last year’s Battle Studies. The fact that fans defend Mayer as any form of blues guitarist and use this as the apparent proof is like a world-is-flat theorist suggesting that maps outsell globes and there must be something in that!
Vultures has Mayer mixing an uneasy falsetto with a clipped attempt at some Robert Cray guitar lines. Then it’s to Waiting On The World To Change, also from Continuum – and he still sounds like a vaguely asthmatic cross between Sting and Eddie Vedder vocally. Less of Sting’s soaring quality and less of Vedder’s bathroom-grunt, but there’s more of both of them than any character Mayer can muster. And his guitar is still soullessly soloing – almost on autopilot, a rolodex of previously recorded ideas being flipped through and played with solid technique and next to no original elements from the guiding hands.
Slow Dancing In A Burning Room is a shining example of a poor song being treated like a greatest hit; this is what happens when fans gather. They cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. I know it’s a concert – fans go to concerts to hear songs they know. But have some perspective people. This is not a good song. It’s boring. Lifeless.
The best thing about this gig so far is the rhythm section – the drummer and bassist are both superb.
And to reward that thought, the band leaves the stage for Mayer to play some acoustic ephemera.
So it’s Stop This Train and – ridiculously – we get a made up song (New Song) that has Mayer mugging lazily for his adoring fans. If he has half the pedigree that people keep saying he does he should feel like the biggest heel for this act. It’s insulting, ego-driven and absurd. And yet this song, made up on the spot, is not that much worse than the rest of Mayer’s catalogue. It suggests – worryingly – that there are actually 36 Mayer albums recorded and ready, sitting in the wardrobe to be released in and round relationship meltdowns, Playboy interviews and Twitter endorsement deals.
Carlock, replacement for Steve Jordan, gets a chance to shine with a tasteful groove-oriented solo, he had been driving the show all night up to this point, often playing very straight, very basic, but the sound of his drums was just perfect. The kick drum hitting in the chest, just right; nicely. But when he opens up to show some of his chops it’s impressive – but never too showy.
McIntosh channels Mark Knopfler at one point – and actually plays the evening’s best solo by a long way. His chief weapon is subtlety. He also invests his own personality in his playing; his licks have his stamp on them. And his slide playing is often sublime.
Worst song of the night is a very tough pick – but I’m going to go with Who Says because it is the worst song on his new album. A runner up would be Daughters. There’s a pretty awful segue at the end of Half Of My Heart though (on the record this is a duet with Taylor Swift). Mayer starts singing Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. He wishes he could write a song like that.
It’s interesting to hear Mayer live. He is doing nothing special but because he has made the guitar a feature of his live playing – as hackneyed as his approach to it is – he is being written up as something of a star. Some appearances with Clapton and a few other heroes have obviously helped spread the word.
Really, Mayer is a terrible songwriter with a fan base built mostly around girls who want to sleep with him and the males who remain ever hopeful that if they tag along, watch the show, hold some jackets and phones while the girls scream for a bit, buy some fan merchandise and maybe some drinks, they’ll get what Mayer would never be interested in.
It’s either that or a shortcut to developing musical taste. Those are the reasons for liking this music.
I could never be convinced otherwise. Not after losing two hours of my life at a concert just to add to the proof of hearing the turgid albums every time they are released.
It Was The Worst started life as a series of posts on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page