Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

One man, one stage: John Mayer hits Boston for his first-ever solo tour

The singer/songwriter performed a stripped-down set of classics and covers at TD Garden
Courtesy of IMDb

One man, one stage and an unreasonable number of guitars. John Mayer took the first-ever solo tour of his career to TD Garden in Boston on March 13. After a string of popular world tours alongside Mayer’s backing band, in addition to the musician’s separate work traveling with Dead & Company, “John Mayer Solo” embarks on a venture uniquely distinct from his prior works, focusing truly and solely on himself — so much so, that it’s to his detriment.

Marking the second stop on his solo endeavor, Mayer performed an array of hits new and old, including tasteful covers and piano ballads. This solo-sentiment was reflected on stage with a simple setup as Mayer stood on a cozy oriental rug beside a grand piano and a mic stand. Purple-hued light provided a mellow ambience to his energy, mirroring a gentle intention of solitude.

He started with the acoustic portion of his set, opening with the romantic tragedy, “Assassin,” from his 2009 record “Battle Studies.” From the very beginning of the show, Mayer’s full-sounding voice was distinctively clean and warm, captivating audience members with his effortless lone-wolf image. Through his acoustic dexterity and unwavering vocal skill, Mayer concocted a tasteful presentation of his well-balanced and artful finesse, with no one talent overshadowing the other, but rather, acting in complement with one another.

Mayer transitioned to his cover of Beyonce’s 2013 hit, “XO.” Despite being stripped down from the original studio version, Mayer’s vocal stylings ring true and resonate alongside expert strumming. The musician continued this acoustic masterclass with an adaptation of “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” off his folk album, “Born and Raised,” interpolated with esteemed 1990s singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye.” Fit in a blue flannel shirt, natural colorway acoustic guitar and harmonica, Mayer attempts to paint a humble image of a rustic man who allows his music to be the main attraction. But the ignorable irony of such forced intimacy and attention, in a setting housing nearly 20,000 (of Mayer’s blatantly adoring fans no less), withers the magic Mayer intended to spark.

Mayer then moved into the piano section of his set with “New Light,” a synthesized but soft-spoken single from his latest record, “Sob Rock.” Mayer focused on a more subdued and mellow sound throughout the show, particularly within his piano renditions. While choosing a slower and stripped-back route, Mayer did not let up on emotional intensity. But for a vibrantly luring song that holds a beat of coolness and longing, it would have been a more exciting performance if played on the electric guitar with the help of some pedals.

Undoubtedly, Mayer presents quite an accomplished list of achievements. With seven Grammy awards, nineteen nominations and a whole lot more followers on streaming platforms, it is clear that Mayer’s talent in songwriting, guitar-playing and singing sets him apart from other musicians. However, this talent is somewhat overshadowed by his incessant narration between songs.

The New England native made several shoutouts over the course of the evening, highlighting local establishments, his past-address and even former school, Berklee College of Music. Between these appeals from a communal stance, to a more personal one in divulging his own “thoughts and fears” surrounding this independent endeavor; Mayer’s narrations came across as a stand-up act to ‘schmooze’ an audience already willing to pay Ticketmaster’s infamous costs to attend.

While a solo tour does provide a bit of leeway in the artist’s independence on stage, Mayer held a saturated air of pretension that the audience’s applause only seemed to inflate, contrasting the down-to-earth facade consistent across his discography.

Throughout these anecdotes, Mayer seemed to hold an unwavering need to make a case refuting his long-standing reputation of arrogance. Mayer is notoriously narcissistic, at times even prejudiced, and his playboy enigma of the early 2000s has been the root of much controversy surrounding his character.

It was almost as if Mayer used this spoken word as propellent for his musical prowess — each of the remaining two dozen songs on the setlist carrying an enhanced musical conviction greater than the one before.

Returning to his acoustic guitar, Mayer pulled out classics like “In Your Atmosphere,” “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and “Edge of Desire” to finish out the tail end of his show. These three dramatic songs can be marked as models in Mayer’s sophisticated songwriting. The 45-year-old singer wistfully relayed his romantic troubles to the room: “Nobody’s gonna come and save you / We pulled too many false alarms,” he sings in “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” Although his emotions were captured within these bodies of work on stage, the lack of any other musical elements hindered the overall quality of the production, not fully convincing of the “solo” hype that he preaches to be so fulfilling for himself on Instagram.

Mayer capped off the evening with his cover of all covers, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin.’” Though 16 years have passed since his initial performance of the now iconic adaptation, Mayer’s vocal inflections and range kept pace with his 29-year-old self. With an added sense of maturity that resonates throughout his vocal and instrumental tone, Mayer has acquired the experience to elevate the natural chops he has possessed from the very beginnings of his career.

Look, Mayer sounds good — and he knows it. He always has, and he always will. The only difference is that Mayer has now amassed a fanbase expansive enough to satisfy his ravenous ego. A solo tour was the perfect gateway to quench this thirst.

 “John Mayer Solo” strips down common fans’ classics and crazed aficionados’ favorites, reducing them to the inherent very essence of their appeal: Mayer. The only thing standing between the artist and concertgoers is his chosen instrument on each track; piano, electric or acoustic guitar, each strategically chosen to enhance the strategized essence of each moment.

And at least to some, this act was interpreted as a display of authenticity worthy of continuance. Due to the high demand and ensuing support from the first few weeks of this tour, Mayer took to Instagram to announce a string of dates for a Fall 2023 leg of  “John Mayer Solo” that in many cities, has sold out of face value tickets.

Mayer’s Instagram has continued to pump out ego-boosting mantras, with the singer proclaiming “As a dear friend once told me, ‘never block a blessing’. Something very special is happening out here and I want to keep it going — It’s too good for my soul,” Mayer said.

“I’ve never been this exposed before, and the beauty FAR outweighs the discomfort,” he said in a separate post.

His posts after shows are becoming more unbearable as they continue, with a recent caption reading, “Imagining the show from the quiet of the dressing room and then playing it out on stage is one of the most fun aspects of this tour. It’s like I’m building the boat I’ll be setting sail on for two hours, and I want it to tick all the boxes for everyone, myself included,” he said.

The musician has even gone as far to share explanations for why he is barring fans from live streaming shows on this tour. His reason? Live streaming spoils the intimacy these performances create between him, and the concertgoers lucky enough to pay for the often astronomical ticket prices of his shows.

“John Mayer Solo” provides striking examples for both sides of the aisle. Mayer’s musicality is grippingly engaging to the audience, but it comes off a bit lackluster without a full band behind him. Extending his solo run through the fall, after he tours one last time with Dead & Company this summer. Mayer reflects a nuanced complexity reminiscent of your manipulative ex whom we all hold a soft spot for — a man that is so frustratingly annoying, yet so sentimentally and undeniably slick in his ways that he’s hard to deny.

Shanti Furtado can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @shantifurtado.

Caitlin Reardon can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinjreardon.

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