There are two things I can safely conclude about John Mayer kicking off his 2019 World Tour in NZ (his first tour down under since 2014) - 1. I can’t imagine a more thoughtfully curated show to offer much needed serenaded comfort in the face of a tremendously challenging time we are experiencing as a nation right now… and 2. Never have I ever witnessed as many ridiculously amazing guitar solos - so mind-blowingly outstanding these showcases of string/fret mastery were that the most logical attribution would be that John and his two guitarists, David Ryan and Isaiah Sharkey were clearly possessed during the show.
Boasting a tie-dyed backdrop, the scene was set with keyboards for James Hubrick, drums for Aaron Sterling, a spot for Welsh bassist Pino Palladino, a percussion station (complete with bongos) for Aaron Draper and a tidy 2 mic set up for back up vocalist Tiffany Palmer and Carlos. But just when you thought this entourage would suffice for the evening’s agenda, a kapa haka troupe joined the band on stage.
And as the lights dim, a fresh-faced John Mayer kicked off the show with a respectfully heartfelt rendition of How Great Thou Art accompanied by a stunning Bella Kalolo, filling in the second verse in Maori. Following suit with a goosebump-inducing haka, this seemed like the right way (perhaps the only way), to begin.
Clad in a light blue shirt and what can only be termed as paint-splattered ‘Seinfeld’ jeans and a powder blue Fender Stratocaster comfortably in hand, Mr Mayer had the crowd upstanding and singing along with gusto to the very apt first song off the rank, from the 2009 album Battle Studies - Heartbreak Warfare. Swapping straight to an acoustic guitar, no sooner were we plunged into the oldie but a goodie from Room For Squares — No Such Thing; astutely changing the lyrics to ‘I am invincible, you are invincible, we are invincible as long as we’re alive’. Keeping the mood upbeat with just a hint of bluesy twang, John had the audience swaying and singing along to the thirteenth single he ever released — Who Says before the smooth operator, bathed in a golden light, dipped into something a little more folky from 2013’s album Paradise Valley — Waiting On The Day, swapping mid-song to a gold electric guitar for a killer solo that further affirmed that this is more than a pretty face, this is a master at work.
“Wanting to boogie-woogie”, Mayer kept his band on his toes when he nonchalantly said that he’d like to just lay the groove down first and see what happens for the next song and with a chewy bassline leading the way, the pop-tastic number from the 2012 album Born and Raised — Something Like Olivia came to be, with John losing himself in yet another solo, flashing a cheeky grin, clearly in his bliss. Next up, taken from his 2017 album The Search For Everything, Mayer had the audience mesmerised as he crooned the beautiful In The Blood, followed by the particularly relevant in these times — Changing, boasting yet another incredible guitar solo as well as the many funny faces and grimaces of Mr Mayer when he and his guitar become one.
Prefacing the next song with “the whole time I was writing this one in the studio, I danced like a moron”, Mayer invited the audience to do whatever their extremities saw fit to do to his more recent, lighthearted and synthy number New Light, jokingly saying that there are “a lot of shoulders for me in this song; heavy traps, heavy traps!”
Taking time to chat between songs, John noted that there are many blessings to having a vast catalogue but he can’t ever be sure if he’s playing the one the audience wants - thankfully he says, “we have all night” - much to the crowd’s delight. Opting for a slower pace, John began with his rendition of Blues Run The Game before launching into the groovy Queen of California that drew the number to a close with an absurd keyboard solo, followed by a glorious showcase featuring a stunning caramel striped electric guitar in the hands of the one and only blues rockstar.
After a half hour intermission (even time-toughened fingertips need a little break sometimes), John returned to the stage alone to show off his multitasking skills with his guitar and a mounted harmonica for the heartstring-tugging XO - a number that had the arena singing at the top of their lungs. But that wasn’t where the crowd-pleasing stopped, no siree, John Mayer then dipped into the archives, specifically 2003’s Heavier Things for the Grammy-award winning Daughters that had the audience blissfully swaying. Not allowing the swaying to be curtailed, Mr Mayer adroitly slipped into the encouraging number Emoji of a Wave followed by the impeccable In Your Atmosphere - taken from his live sessions in LA before the full band returned, and aided in getting the audience to their feet and grooving to Helpless. What is particularly evident at this point is that polished performers/musicians of this ilk are a rarity these days and an absolute gobsmacking wonder to behold.
Allowing the gold electric guitar a little more time in the spotlight, it was time for the folky Paper Doll where neon pink lights drew silhouettes around the band. Towards the end of the song, it soon became apparent that no song would be allowed to end until Mr Mayer was well and truly done freestylin’ on the guitar. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Witnessing a very present John Mayer in his flow, jamming and showing what he could make a guitar do was nothing short of out of this world. After a quick change to the acoustic, it was time for the slightly more obscure yet still very beloved Love on The Weekend followed by his most recently written song, I Guess I Just Feel Like — yet another highly relevant commentary on the current world we live in and how many of us are probably feeling.
Speaking of relevance, Mayer prefaced the next number by saying he enjoyed writing songs from the perspective of a heartfelt stupid idiot. It was a little something from his alcohol-fueled days, from a time when he wanted someone back for 3 hours and the lengths he would go to to get what he wanted. And so, Rosie arrived in all her effortless glory. Paving the way for a hugely anticipated number, Mayer then handed over the reigns to guitarist and singer David Ryan before Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.
But just when you thought that would be a tough tune to follow, it turns out, that isn’t the case with a repertoire like this one. Taking the chance to share that this is the first time in a long time that he’s been on stage with all his mind and soul, Mayer shared yet another pertinent message with If I Ever Get Around to Living, followed by the hallowed Gravity. Closing out the show, John handpicked a tune to send us his love during these tough times — The Heart of Life before sending us out on a dancy note with Still Feel Like Your Man — where the bongos were finally given their time in the spotlight.
It’s safe to say that if this is a sign of things to come for John Mayer’s 2019 World Tour, the rest of the world better hold on to their hats / minds / souls - John Mayer 2.0 is going to blow you away with his undeniable talent and charm his way into your heart forever with his goofball tendencies! Oh, and Seinfeld jeans can be sexy… but only if you’re John Mayer.