Friday, 25 October 2013

John Mayer at the O2 Arena, London - 20/10/13

The last time I saw John Mayer live was in 2010, when he embarked on his first ever UK arena tour, in support of fourth studio album - 2009's Battle Studies. The past three years has seen Mayer undergo surgery for a throat condition, and subsequently go on to release 2012's Born And Raised, followed by Paradise Valley just over a year later. Admittedly, I haven't been overly enthralled with any of the studio albums released since 2006's Continuum. While I feel that Battle Studies lacks the strength and consistency of Continuum, I viewed it as a transitional album, and envisioned that his next release would be more along the lines of a John Mayer Trio inspired studio record, or even something of a jazz-orientated genre. As it is, the last two releases have had a mostly country sound, with both albums having a more 'quiet' feel than any of his previous efforts. This is by no means a criticism, there are standout tracks on both records, particularly Born And Raised, I just haven't been drawn to them in the same way that I was - and still am - with the first three albums. Taking this into account, I attended the O2 gig last Sunday with an open mind as to how the new material would transpire in such a large venue (and with an almost entirely new band), but also confident in the knowledge that Mayer is a gifted musician, both live and on record.

Mayer opened the two-hour set with 'Wildfire', followed by 'Half Of My Heart', the latter of which progressed into an impressively soulful middle eight breakdown featuring call-and-response vocals. However, it was the unmistakable extended intro that led into a nine-minute 'I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)', that really got the gig underway, and was without doubt, my favourite track of the evening. Of the other songs played from Continuum, 'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room' and 'Belief' were also key moments of the set, and went down a treat with the crowd.

Much of the new material, in particular, 'Paper Doll' and 'If I Ever Get Around To Living', translated fantastically in a live setting, more so than I expected. Even if I haven't quite taken to the most recent albums in the same way as his earlier work, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing these new songs played in an atmospheric venue. Mayer's band demonstrated great musicianship throughout, but sounded most tight on 'Queen Of California' - probably the most solid track of the evening, and one that gave me a new appreciation for the studio version that appears on Born And Raised. Equally as impressive were Mayer's vocals, which were on fine form, and didn't show any sign of strain throughout the gig - a clear indication he has recovered well from his throat surgery. His range was particularly impressive on a cover of 'Can't Find My Way Home', in which he sang the majority of the track falsetto. His vocals were further complimented by backing vocalists Carlos Ricketts Jr. and Tiffany Palmer, whose rich harmonies added a further warmth to the songs. This was most apparent on 'Something Like Olivia', though the main vocal highlight was final encore track 'Gravity', which featured an interlude of Otis Redding's 'I've Got Dreams To Remember'.

Reflecting on the gig, it is evident that the setlist perhaps, wasn't as spontaneous as in previous years, with no real surprise tracks or rarities emerging. While I was thrilled with the selection of songs played from Continuum, it was slightly disappointing that Mayer barely touched upon his first two releases, with just one track - 'Why Georgia' - from 2001 debut Room For Squares, appearing in the set. However, considering he is currently into his sixth studio album, and this tour was inevitably centred around both Born And Raised and Paradise Valley, I feel he delivered a well balanced setlist that engaged both the casual and long-time fan. It was brilliant to hear the new material in a live setting, along with favourites from Continuum. Mayer has a talent for playing songs with a uniqueness that sets them apart from the versions that appear on his records, and this gig was no exception.

'Half Of My Heart'
'Paper Doll'
'I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)'
'Something Like Olivia'
'Going Down The Road Feeling Bad'
'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room'
'Free Falling'
'Blues Run The Game'
'Queen Of California'
'Dear Marie'
'If I Ever Get Around To Living'
'Waiting On The World To Change'
'The Age Of Worry'
'Why Georgia'

'Can't Find My Way Home'