Do you have that one artist that you love unconditionally but sometimes you wonder why they deserve your unwavering admiration? For me, that artist is John Mayer. I have all his albums, EPs and even a couple of live bootleg songs and for the most part I listen with an avid ear, loving what I’m hearing. Then there are the days when I cringe at the thought of his bubblegum pop song ‘Your Body Is A Wonderland’ or the politically lazy ‘Waiting On The World To Change’. And as I put his achievements aside, his five Grammy awards, I just don’t get it any more.

What I need at these moments is something to restore my faith. And what better way to do this than with a live performance of his sold out two-day stint in the prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

Before John Mayer graced the audience of the packed Hall with his presence, a tall dreadlocked figure emerged from the shadows of the stage. He went by the name of Newton Faulkner and, as he claimed, he came to fill the support act slot. And he did that and more. Full of charisma, he kept the audience at ease with his wry humour, mesmerizing them with ‘Teardrop’, a Massive Attack cover, played in his distinctive finger-picking, guitar-slapping kind of way, plus inviting them to a Spongebob Squarepants sing-a-long. Drunk with laughter, a quarter of the audience showed their appreciation by giving Mr. Newton a standing ovation. I personally thought that it was a bit much. It has to be said that he did do more than what a support band usually does and in hindsight he interacted with the audience more than John Mayer did, but a standing ovation? I, on the other hand, kept my butt firmly on my seat, whilst clapping generously.

After a half hour intermission, an anticipation buzz filled the Royal Albert Hall , soon followed by the dimming of the lights, to which no one (including myself) could be found sitting down. Everyone was on their feet, welcoming John Mayer and his band with spirited applause, whoops and cheering; in fact any form of praise was directed towards the main act. Mayer responded to this flattering acclamation by inducing more cheers due to his display of sultry vocals and guitar virtuosity.

His performance did more than give me more reasons to love his music again. It gave the music from a sometimes over thought and clean-cut third album, ‘Continuum’, more depth and warmth. He managed to give songs from all paths of his musical career a new lease of life. From ‘Vultures’ to ‘Clarity’, ‘Why Georgia’ to Heart Of Life’, his deft hands finely worked his Fender Stratocaster stating from the beginning, that this was going to be a demonstration of his growth as a guitarist.

When I first listened to ‘Continuum’, I thought that my once beloved Jimi Hendrix song ‘Bold As Love’ (which he covered well with Steve Jordan and Pino Pallidino in the John Mayer Trio), had suffered from the effects of a studio production; and it had. It sounded too perfect, just as if an amateur had learned to play a Hendrix cover but did not have the capacity to add their own touch to it. But John Mayer isn’t an amateur. He’s been playing the guitar in music venues for well over a decade and live is where he truly shines. Still a Hendrix cover, Mayer brought it to life with the strength of a live band behind him. Another song that benefited from a live performance was ‘Belief’, where improvised instrumentals again let Mayer’s guitar illuminate the performance.

As if written on stone, the highlight of the night was inevitably ‘Gravity’, where Mayer sang the most honest and sincere lyrics he’s probably ever written in. "I’ll never know/What makes this man/With all the love/That his heart can stand/Dream of ways/To throw it all away’" And in order for these lyrics to take precedence, simplicity was the only way forward. Tender vocals and deep yet sparse drumming surrounded the guitar which had lyrical melody. And with a quick glance around the ethereal Hall, you could tell that many had adapted the lyrics to fit their own lives as they sang along quietly but invested as much heart as Mayer did.

The interaction that occurred seemed to happen in a deeper (dare I say ) spiritual level. I consider an all-round great concert to, however, include some form of overt interaction. I know concerts are meant to be all about the music but I also feel that they should be able give a glimpse of the personality behind the music. In this way Mayer fell short. Apart from the very few witty remarks that he muttered in-between songs, there was no sign of the guy that had previously ventured into comedy venues and successfully taken the stage as a stand-up comic. He let his music speak for him.

But that’s something that was done exceptionally well. And to do so, he unashamedly played all his influences’ strengths into his performance, with passion, purpose and with an abundance ofpanache. Let alone the covers he played, hidden in the framework of the songs, there were moments when Stevie Ray Vaughan’s riffs could be heard in an improvised intro and at times Eric Clapton crept in, placing delicate touches of lyricism into the solos. Moreover, his knowledge of the blues and rock, soul and pop, meant that when he shifted from one genre to another, he did it effortlessly and with his magnetic charm, only calling on Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King to make his path smoother.

The uncertainties that I suffered on the eve of his concert were but a fading memory replaced by a refreshed and revitalised frame of mind that his performance brought.

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Commenting On: Royal Albert Hall, London, 19/9/2007 - John Mayer

ie London, England

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