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Taken from The Gazette (February 19, 2010)

Love-fest concert reveals a tale of two Mayers

Image battle with celebrity, musician unresolved


Michael Franti
John Mayer performs at the Bell Centre on Wednesday.
He had no trouble winning over the audience.
Photograph by: PHIL CARPENTER, THE GAZETTE, The Gazette

As 9,000 people made their way out of the Bell Centre after John Mayer's two-hour set (make that love fest) Wednesday night, stray comments nicely illustrated the paradox that is Mayer.

"I liked it. I just wish he had played more blues, man," a male voice said.

A group of girls heading toward René Lévesque Blvd. giggled and relived the moment the singer took off his jacket and went sleeveless. That's pretty much the whole dilemma.

Wednesday night's signs reading Be My Valentine, John, and Your Body Is MY Wonderland (a paraphrasing of one of his most popular, and most insipid, hits) seemed as valid a symbol of the Mayer fan base as people playing air guitar during the epic solo in Gravity, which ended the show before two acoustic encores.

To further illustrate the point, a recent cringe-worthy profile in Rolling Stone focused more on his sex life and his bodily functions than on his playing, while a Playboy interview last week that had Mayer using the N-word showed that the singer's inability to put a filter on his thoughts is in serious danger of overwhelming his music. In an image battle with Mayer the celebrity flake, Mayer the serious guitar player is getting his butt kicked.

Some serious flaws in the set list aren't helping, either. Wednesday night, forgettable pop songs like No Such Thing and Edge of Desire were more representative of the action on stage than sublime, cut-loose guitar solos on I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You) or Crossroads (as received from Eric Clapton, not Robert Johnson).

Most of Mayer s other solos were effective, but economical. And worryingly, a solo acoustic set showed that several of his songs, unadorned, don't seem much more than ordinary.

To be absolutely fair, the bar was set high by Michael Franti and Spearhead, who opened the show with an insane sucker punch of a set that had Franti prowling all over the Bell Centre as if it were a small club.

For 45 minutes, a highly energized Franti engaged sections of the arena in singalongs, returned to the stage with fans in tow like a hip-hop pied piper and went back into the crowd to introduce more rock, reggae and rap-influenced anthems.

Never have I seen an opening act own a large crowd so quickly and so completely. And that includes Arcade Fire opening for U2.

Mayer had no trouble winning the audience back, of course. And he showed his genuine love of music with heartwarming allusions: a couple of lines from Homeward Bound tossed into Stop This Train, a musical quotation from People Get Ready during his solo in the sweetly soulful Waiting On the World To Change, a snippet of Dreams in Half of My Heart and a bit of I've Got Dreams to Remember to introduce the magic guitar break in Gravity.

Perhaps those moments of mischief and abandon are what must be remembered. Mayer's heart is clearly in the right place, and the boy can sure play. In the end, there's still hope that this is how he will end up defining himself.

Photo Gallery: View a gallery of Phil Carpenter's photos of John Mayer's Wednesday-night Bell Centre show on the Gazette's galleries page, at montrealgazette.com/photos

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


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