By Dan Cava
August 16, 2017
We’ve learned a lot about John Mayer’s music over the years. With his first two albums, we discovered an impeccable pop craftsmen. With Continuum, we learned that the boy could blues, hard. The John Mayer Trio and a stint touring with members of the Grateful Dead revealed a guitar god hidden in plain sight, and as the spotlight shifted to other shinier pop artists in recent years, subsequent albums gave way to a settled, introspective Americana. Now, with 2017’s The Search for Everything and its accompanying tour stop in Charlotte last night, Mayer seems to be the mood to summarize and celebrate.
From the show’s riff-laden opener “Helpless” to its tender post-encore closer, Mayer leaned into the best of his strengths. Rather than a road-weary catalogue of hits, Mayer and company served up an electrifying and eclectic blend of songs and on-the-fly jams. Early hits like “No Such Thing” and “Why Georgia” morphed into breathless medleys, and newer songs justified their existence with irresistible grooves, soaring musicianship, and at least a half dozen raging guitar solos. His band was the stuff of legends, with the famed Trio’s drummer and bass player, Steve Jordan and Pino Paladino, playing alongside a stage full of ridiculously talented players.
The production features were beautifully realized, impressive yet tasteful with a large video drape displaying scene-setting backdrops behind the singer and band. The show was cleverly divided into five chapters, with simple white text appearing on the screens to announce where we were in the narrative: “Full Band,” “Acoustic,” an all-too-brief “Trio” set, “Full Band (Reprise),” and a single song “Epilogue.”
Someone sent me a picture of the band’s printed setlist, and what struck me were the times they deviated or expanded on it. Much of what we saw last night seemed to be happening in the moment, and indeed it was. A surprise rendition of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” popped up after “Who Says.” While playing the lovely non-hit “Queen of California,” John Mayer called out a key change to the band: “Everyone go to A.” The band exchanged a series of calibrating glances, and off they went. After the jam concluded, there were real unforced smiles all around the musicians. Not stage smiles, but genuine “did you feel that?” smiles.
If anything, the only parts of the show that felt remotely perfunctory where a handful of “required hits.” “Waiting on the World to Change” while solidly performed, had little of the punch and spontaneity of the rest of the set. “Your Body is a Wonderland” sounded like the sorority staple that it is, enlivened only by a neatly self-conscious break in the middle of the song to comfort the males in attendance. “Hang on, guys, the song is halfway over.”
Thankfully, the crowd didn’t seem to miss the hits at all. There were no calls for “Daughters;” and every song, popular or deep cut, was greeted enthusiastically. At the beginning of the show, Mayer gave something of a disclaimer, “We’ve got seven albums of stuff, so we’ll try to do something for everyone.” But a few songs later, it was clear that Charlotte didn’t need the cushion, and he seemed to sense right away we were all in sync. The more Mayer and the band did their thing, the more we went with it. The place literally lit up before the show’s encore. In a magical unprompted moment, thousands of concert-goers illuminated PNC Pavilion with their smartphones lights, somehow providing the exact level of intimacy needed for “Stop This Train.” We were feeling it.
We were feeling it, and the band was feeling it, and John Mayer was feeling it. True to the album title, John Mayer searched for everything in Charlotte last night; and for one killer evening of music, he found it.
Check out the remaining 2017 John Mayer tour dates.