Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER/KOALA PHOTOGRPHY
There is a certain kind of concert review you see from time to time wherein the too-cool-for-school critic goes to some obviously lame concert with the intention of trashing it and comes away humbled by the sheer humanity of, say, fans of the Dave Matthews Band. In the interest of full disclosure I went to see John Mayer at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night fully expecting to write the exact opposite of that kind of review afterwards, i.e. I was planning on really laying into him from on high. And I still may! But it ain’t easy, after being there and seeing something like that. The point is, folks, people love John Mayer, and that is a beautiful thing. They look at each other and hold hands and sway with their big round eyes and honestly, I mean, I’m not a monster am I?
However, by some happy coincidence the concert I went to was on the same day the Donald Trump began bombing Syria, and when he starts singing a song like “Waiting on the World To Change” it was a funny feeling I got. Essentially, it occurred to me that Mayer is a simulator — he is what passes for the real thing in this post-factual age — and he is brilliant at it. When he plays acoustic music he has a backdrop of falling cherry blossoms, and when he play some Mumford and Sons-type song there’s a background of a rustic barn with a bunch of moody candles and it’s all computer-generated and almost seems intended to look fake. One of his back drops is literally just a soft focus high exposure filter, transforming the stage into a daytime TV drama. What he’s doing is simulating these different motifs, going through them one by one: pop star, sensitive lover, daydreamer, cool and classic bluesman. He is simulating being a rockstar for thousands and thousands of people who couldn’t care less about something like “authenticity,” whatever that is.
So when he claims that he’s given up alcohol, and this is the first time he’s been “naked emotionally” on stage, it’s easy to smirk. Because there is something kind of offensive about John Mayer being one of the greatest living blues guitarists, especially if you believe in the whole myth of the blues equalling authenticity. When in fact, John Mayer is smarmy and white and seems like a rich kid. And this is where the simulation begins, where the man ends and the rock star begins. John Mayer is a fucking rock star. He has fucked a swathe through Hollywood, leaving discarded bottles of Glenlivet and famous broken hearts in his wake. Not only that, but he actually can shred like nobody’s business. So watching him on this tour, no longer flaunting his virtuosity or using it as a weapon against the audience, flaying them into submission, he seems to truly be drawing on the love of his fans: playing a lick, waiting for a response, the cheers driving his playing further and further to the climactic finish of the set closer “Gravity.”
His music is almost brilliantly generic, it is so clear and obvious that it almost feels like an eventuality. That is to say, destined in some way. “Your Body Is A Wonderland” is timeless because it could have been written for any era of popular music. It almost as if the song itself, and for that Mayer’s oeuvre as a whole, was lurking in the background of pop for decades, just waiting for him to appear and make itself known. And people — so many people — are so very grateful when it does. They look at each other and hold hands and sway with their big round eyes. And who am I to argue with that? — JAMES M. DAVIS