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Taken from NewOrleans.Com (Mar 11, 2010)

John Mayer, Michael Franti's positive vibes levitate the New Orleans Arena

by Dwayne Fatherree

Michael FrantiNEW ORLEANS | If you're a guitar player, it takes real balls to close down your encore with Eric Clapton's "Crossroads." But it takes seriously huge cajones to do that while the closing notes of Clapton's own encore performance of the song are still echoing from the weekend.

To pull that kind of stunt and get away with it, you need the talent and the band to back up the bluff. John Mayer proved he has both.

Sure, he doesn't have the clean, meticulous fretting style that Clapton has perfected. He hasn't rewritten the annals of rock, or even pop. But when Mayer plays, he does it with a glee and heart that makes you want to smile.

See pics from John Mayer's set!

Let's get one thing straight now. I'm not a big John Mayer fanboy. I walked into his show Wednesday night knowing a couple of his tunes but not really being immersed in his catalog. I always pictured him as more a wilting flower singer-songwriter and expected one of those starry-eyed, sensitive shows.

His performance blew the hell out of that image. About five songs into his set, a short in one of his effects pedals caused him to abort an electric guitar song. Instead, the guitar tech brought him an acoustic guitar and left him standing alone under the white lights at center stage. What should have been a meek attempt to stall for time turned into a virtuoso one-man performance, moving smoothly from a syncopated "Comfortable" to an intense "Neon," with Mayer playing both bass and melody parts simultaneously, singing, and later toasting the redwood neck with a blistering solo.

The entire set went off that way. At each point when I expected the sappy pop star to emerge, the music added lean hard muscle and stormed forward. Another Room for Squares chestnut, "Why Georgia," picked up a new beat and energy in the hands of Mayer's touring band.

That band, even without Mayer's star power, could argue for its own niche in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Built around the guitarist chops of Robbie McIntosh (Pretenders, Paul McCartney) and David Ryan Harris (Dione Farris, Santana) with uberdrummer Steve Jordan (Stevie Wonder, The Blues Brothers and too many to realistically list) providing the pulse, Mayer could go file his nails in the corner and the set would still sound great.

That. however, is not what he did. There was no doubt that Mayer was in control of the show from the opening strains of "Heartbreak Warfare" to the final rave-up of "Crossroads." An extended breakdown of "Waiting for the World to Change" gave each musician the opportunity to expound a bit on the musical phrase while keeping the audience on its feet. The single most intense piece of playing came from Jordan, who beat his poor drum kit into submission with an incredible display of rhythm, timing and power.

Mayer led the audience into "Half of My Heart" with a quiet refrain from Dylan's "Just Like a Woman," then took the song off on another tangent halfway through with a twist of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" at the end.

Michael FrantiOpening act Michael Franti and Spearhead played the same sort of musical legerdemain throughout its hour-long set, touching on Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" (complete with the 6'6" Franti moonwalking across the stage) and a bit of Nirvana with "Smells Like Teen Spirit."Franti and Spearhead made Mayer's job a lot easier. The infectious bounce of Spearhead's reggae-cum-funk-slash rock with a heavy dose of pop sensibility had the front half of the audience already standing before Mayer even took the stage. Franti did at least two full laps around the arena, running up into the lower bowl seats and across the floor section before bringing a handful of fans onstage with him.

See more pics from Michael Franti and Spearhead's set!

By the end of their set closing with last summer's "Say Hey (I Love You)," a dozen or two children were on the stage dancing and singing along with the band.

To their credit, the openers stood along the photo pit barricade for 20 to 30 minutes after they finished, signing autographs, posing for pictures and just chatting with eager fans.

Between the two sets, the audience got enough good energy to cheer and sing along throughout the night, then leave happy even though the rain had begun to fall.


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