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John Mayer | 03.01 | Milwaukee


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Word by: Cal Roach | Images by: Derek Dysart

John Mayer :: 03.01.10 :: Bradley Center :: Milwaukee, WI

John Mayer :: 03.01 :: Milwaukee, WI

You have to keep your appreciation for music separate from your opinions about the musicians, even when those musicians are doing everything possible to frustrate your efforts. It's a slippery slope, and if you're not careful, you'll wind up having to throw out all your Beatles and Led Zeppelin records. Still, when a fan passed John Mayer a big cardboard sign that read, “MUSICAL NAPALM," at the end of his set Monday night, it drove home just how difficult it is lately to ignore his offstage antics. But aside from that moment, it was pretty easy to forget the media shit-storm and enjoy Mayer and his crack rhythm and blues band playing a set of well-oiled American rock and roll.

I've always felt that Mayer uses a bit too much of a Dave Matthews-ish raspy affectation to make up for the lack of depth in his voice, but his natural vocals aren't bad and he doesn't overreach or make his singing the focal point of the show. Some of the best moments were his harmonizing with backup singers Julie Delgado and Melanie Taylor, particularly on “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye." Bottom line: You don't get the impression that he's up there faking it; there's soul buried under the sheen.

The Mayer catalog is essentially split between girl-baiting sensual oozers and smooth blues, resulting in a largely tame but undeniably classy performance. He's not up there humping the mic stand or blowing kisses; he's making awkward faces as he wails on his guitar in loose-fitting gray pants. He arranged the set in perfect stylistic balance to please almost any stripe of fan. Although any diehard holdovers from his acoustic troubadour beginnings may not have been satiated by a mere two-song interlude, it was a particular treat, as he debuted an untitled tune he'd just written ("Everything you'll ever be/ You already are to me") and played a truly engaging arrangement of Springsteen's “I'm On Fire" with his own “3X5" sandwiched inside.

John Mayer :: 03.01 :: Milwaukee, WI

Those unfamiliar with his material got plenty of kick-downs, as Mayer led the band into a portion of Fleetwood Mac's “Dreams" at the end of “Half Of My Heart" and ended the set with a fierce “Message In A Bottle" jam that bled into “Why Georgia." However, it was tough to get your head around his rendition of “Crossroads." It's a blues Holy Grail that Mayer hasn't earned the right to sip from, particularly in this hair-gel glossy arrangement and with a super-cheesy LED “psychedelic" backdrop. Still, Mayer's guitar solos were scorching.

Mayer's instrumental chops are admittedly derivative, mimicking Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan most blatantly, but he's not just another pretty guitar-solo face - the guy can play. A couple of sharp duels with David Ryan Harris and ex-Pretender Robbie McIntosh (who also provided some outstanding slide work) proved to be highlights of the set, but there was no question as to who was the star at any point, and mutual admiration beamed from all their faces. He saved his best stuff for the final song of the night, “Gravity," leaving no doubt that once the pop pinup/tabloid bull's eye gig dries up he's got a lot to offer as a guitar hero. The performance was enough to make me believe that deep down, that is what he's really after.

Michael Franti & Spearhead opened the show and positively made the most of their hour slot. Franti was among the audience for a good third of the show, whether strumming an acoustic from the stands or bringing all the kiddies (and a few somewhat older kiddies) onstage for the sing-along finale of “Say Hey (I Love You)." This guy knows how to get a crowd pumped up and feeling like part of the show. I'd only caught a couple of disruptive guest appearances by Franti before, so this was an eye-opener of a set. Brimming with positivity and charisma that more than made up for the somewhat run-of-the-mill tunes (except the aforementioned “Say Hey;" that thing deserves its hit-single status), Spearhead is a party with a message that the world can use right about now.

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