Last Night: John Mayer at Red Rocks Amphitheatre - 09.01.10
Brian Landis Folkins
With special guest Owl City
09.01.10 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre
You ever been around somebody who's had a near-death experience? Notice how they're just a little more gracious than the rest of us, and perhaps a little more sincere? Or how they don't take life's fleeting moments -- you know, the ones we find tedious and mundane -- for granted? Coming face to face with your own demise does something to you. Last night, John Mayer had the distinct air of someone who's come back from the brink.
Lest we forget, it was just a little more than six months ago that Mayer's career seemed as good as dead. Thanks to a string of eyebrow-raising quotes attributed to him in consecutive interviews in Rolling Stone and Playboy, in which he rhapsodized about the explosiveness of a certain past paramour and her respective lady parts, discussed the frequency and his pronounced proclivity for porn and self-gratification and then capped it by firing off a few racially tinged sentiments, Mayer essentially rendered himself persona non grata.
After those revealing interviews were published, Mayer wisely stepped back from the searing heat of the limelight and concentrated on doing what he does best, making music, as a form of damage control. And it seems to have worked. Luckily for him, we all have the retention capabilities of Nemo's absentminded mate Dory when it comes to tracking the missteps of various celebrities. In many cases, if enough time passes -- and with the round-the-clock news cycle we live in, that can often mean just a few months -- and you're genuinely contrite, today's pariah can become tomorrow's heartrending story of redemption.
So, the $64,000 question last night: Had enough time passed? Were we all back in his corner? From the way he came out swinging, immediately unleashing a flurry of scorching blues riffs with a look of steely-eyed determination, it was clear that Mayer was all about business. But as he launched into "Vultures," you got the sense that, in the very least, this notion was on his mind -- if for no other reason than his choice of openers. Although the song was written years before, the sentiment is easily applicable now. The incisive lyrics acknowledge the faceless detractors while expressing a resolve to make it through to the other side.
"Down to the wire/I wanted water/But I'll walk through the fire/If this is what it takes/To take me even higher/Then I'll come through/Like I do/When the world keeps/Testing me, testing me, testing me."
"How did they find me here?/What do they want from me?/All of these vultures hiding/Right outside my door/I hear them whispering/They're trying to ride me out/They've never gone this long/Without a kill before."
When Mayer traded his golden Strat for an acoustic and queued up "No Such Thing," he still seemed to be in the midst of shaking off some pent-up nervous energy. Rolling through a very lived-in version of the song, he took liberties with the original melody -- in a way that only comes from playing a tune over and over again on the road -- and showcased a throaty croon that split the difference between Dave Matthews and Isaac Slade, sounding at least a half step lower than the original.
Brian Landis Folkins
As he finished that song, any lingering trepidation he might have had about his reception was unanimously extinguished by the rapturous applause he received, which he readily acknowledged. "If the first two songs feel like you just made this feel," he exclaimed, "then this show is about to go off!"
Indeed. From this point on, Mayer was noticeably energized, confident and comfortable, not to mention firmly in the pocket and completely in command. Shedding his jacket to reveal an armful of tattoos, the troubadour, looking a bit like Orlando Bloom channeling Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid, engaged the crowd in his typically disarming sort of way.
Ah, there he is, the charming dude everybody knows and loves.
First he asked how many people had an amazing summer. That was followed by a query of how many people found love this summer. Finally, he asked how many knew that this summer wasn't about love, before asking if everybody had a good couple of hookups. With that, he sang refrain from "Beast of Burden" and wed it fairly seamlessly into "Perfectly Lonely," which pivots on the idea that "I don't belong to anybody, therefore nobody belongs to me."
From there, Mayer led his band through a dubby version of Bill Withers's classic "Ain't No Sunshine," which, like the Journey interpolation he ended the set with, sort of drained all the pathos from the original. Playing a red hollow-body, Mayer exhibited some stellar fretwork as he stretched the tune out, adding Santana-style riffs with Eddie Van Halen's trademark tapping technique - all while offering up some serious Oh! face.
"That's a Bill Withers tune," he remarked. "Thank you for obliging me."
Our pleasure, man. Don't mention it.