The thing about John Mayer is that there is more than one of him. He's not just the prodigal philosophy major with a guitar crooning your freshman year soundtrack. He's not just the well-studied blues guitarist who helped revive The Grateful Dead and who earns the respect of any true musician. And he's certainly not just the celebrity whose relationships and breakups write headlines.
His latest album, and the accompanying concert tour that touched down at Darien Lake Sunday night, offers the most focused portrait yet. He is all of these and more than these, and sometimes none of these. This impressive show attempts to negotiate these selves and explore the layers of a man's life and career.
Despite his right to be ambidextrous and shift gears, "The Search for Everything" tour is a glorious return to form. The album is deliciously good, and Mayer's live presentation of it a rewarding gift to loyal and sophisticated fans.
The show opens with a cinematic introduction on the stage's video wall — opening credits scrolled with chapter titles and a list of cast members, a trustworthy crew of musicians whose talents were abundant and comforting. Film segments and dreamy visuals illustrated this live concert film.
It's a performance concept that lays out an intentional, crafted — avoiding the now popular and misused "curated," but curated — blueprint of a career that is sure to be deeply respected and appreciated someday. One thing is for sure: Mayer is a grateful work in progress.
A soulful Chapter 1 with the full band reminds us of his newer work. "Helpless" got the knees warmed up. It's a song you'd happily dance with your mom to at a family wedding. This is a John Mayer anyone can love. Music that everybody should love, it's so earthly. A smart and generous way to get things started.
Chapter 2, an intimate acoustic set, wasted no time revisiting some of his first hits. Those old jeans that are memorable, if not necessarily as comfortable as they once were. Mayer interrupted the blissfully simple-minded "Your Body Is a Wonderland" to tell us this. That he knows his reputation, and, oh well. These acoustic hits seemed to say that it's good to grow up and it's also okay to accept your youth.
He later thanked his fans for appreciating his new music as well as wanting the hits. Nostalgia can wait, and it will indeed return, he promised. A participatory cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin' " put the period at the end of that sentence.
The boy grows up in an electrifying Chapter 3: The John Mayer Trio. A jazz, blues and rock combo with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino, this is raw, temporal, messy magic. You could mop the floor of a New Orleans corner with these licks.
A cover of his "Vultures" from 2006's "Continuum," written with Jordan and Palladino, lays down some righteous rhythm guitar and cool cooing. Mayer played his guitar with a drumstick at one point; earlier in the set he swapped places with the drummer for an improvised intro.
Some might call this self-indulgent, a boy having too much fun in his sandbox. But it's one of the most generous things a successful artist can do with his or her audience: take them somewhere else. Thank you for this field trip.
An opening set from Los Angeles band Dawes offered very Californian pastiche of soul-folk rock. "Roll With the Punches" invited us to a pretty chill end-of-the-world party. "Roll With the Punches" and "When My Time Comes" bring to mind a youthful Don Henley and Lindsey Buckingham, and their popified country-pop.
Some smooth harmonies here straight out of the 1970s, a fitting and relaxing setting for this late-August night. Even those of us in a seat beneath the canopy might have felt felt the lawn between our toes. Just the right amount of everything.
Sunday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
Story topics: Darien Lake concerts