Photos by Katrina Wong Shue
John Mayer is a maestro with the guitar. He effortlessly glides along the frets, mischievously plucking the strings and bending them at his whim to elicit the ghastly wails of his instrument. At times delicate, and at times, a flurry of emotion, Mayer plays the strings almost as easily as he plays the audience.
Combine this wizardry with a musky, sultry voice and chic indifference — he’s captivating.
Mayer’s catalogue is personal; each song seems to offer an opening into this mystery of a man, drawing the audience in closer to better empathize with the ailing poet and create an intimate experience. This can make a nearly sold-out stadium show feel like a private event.
There were a number of standouts from the night. Clarity was a fun experience live; perhaps the clarity of hearing it in person lends itself to the track. No Such Thing was on everyone’s Top 25 Most Played playlists on their iPods in high school so I couldn’t help but drown in giddy nostalgia and “scream at the top of my lungs”. Split Screen Sadness has always been a favourite of mine so I was thrilled to hear it performed live (and this was the first time Mayer has performed it live). I just love how the song embodies the one-sided inner conversations we have with ourselves after we’ve ended a tough phone call and in his live rendition of the track, it does feel like he’s reliving that moment. Fan favourites Free Fallin’, Daughters, and Slow Dancing in a Burning Room padded the setlist for the night amidst some of his newer material. Although you’re mentally prepared for the live performances of these timeless tracks, the melodies swoop you up and you’re at the mercy of the maestro.
Much to my surprise, Gravity came before the encore. I’ve listened to and watched his live shows on Spotify and YouTube countless times and it has always been the riveting, heart-wrenching tornado of a closer. Brutally honest. Raw. It leaves you with a strong impression after the show.
New Light is his new closer and his message is clear: “if you give me just one night / You’re gonna see me in a new light”. It’s a song of redemption; a song of new beginnings; a song of hope. Knowing that Mayer came from a dark place after he had throat surgery twice in 2012, you can almost see his evolution as a person unfold through his songs.
Frankly speaking: I’m not as big of a fan of his new material, but I can certainly appreciate it. They’re lovely. They’re elegant. They’re deceptively simple. They make you groove! It’s clear that he’s matured past that crooning stage of his life, but that exact emotion his past catalogue evoked had that visceral punch that fans like myself revisit. I wouldn’t dare venture to say that he’s entering the sunset period of his career, but you can start to see this lone cowboy has found a ranch to settle down at and is enjoying the wonders of life.