John Mayer’s first Solo Acoustic tour made its only Canadian stop at Scotiabank Arena on March 21.
For the fifth of these very special nineteen shows, opening the night was Toronto’s own, JP Saxe. Based in Los Angeles, Saxe opened his set with 4:30 in Toronto on piano, afterwards musing on where he was. Explaining that he grew up ‘up the street’ at Yonge and Sheppard and that his first concert, Hilary Duff, was in this venue, it was a shared moment between artist and audience of hometown boy makes good and comes back for a visit. A rare talent with an unimpeachable voice, Saxe next performed A Little Bit Yours and The Few Things before bringing out John Mayer for I Don’t Miss You. JP Saxe closed his short set with his hit, If the World Was Ending.
The tour itself reportedly came together quickly and although not lacking any production value is scaled back (to a mere 4 trucks) from what John Mayer put up for his Sob Rock tour last year. Some excellent camera and lighting work gave it all the sheen the artist values. Moments showed crane camera work that to me resembled something from an Academy Awards broadcast. A particularly artful blend of bright blocks of white light and fog backlighting Mayer during Shouldn’t Matter but It Does showed that the visuals were considered and dramatic.
John Mayer took the stage to cheers, most in a higher timbre range. There’s no question that the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s fan base skews female but a cursory scan of the crowd demonstrated diversity. Couples seemed to be the next variant, although plenty of men filled out the crowd, perhaps a testament to the strength of Mayer’s songwriting and playing. The pleasure derived from music should never be considered guilty or feel to require closeting, so seeing cheering men enjoying the show was refreshing. Opening with Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, John Mayer started strong, then followed up with Shot in the Dark, Emoji of a Wave and In the Blood. A brief video from over 20 years ago showed an interview dating to Mayer’s first album release, Room For Squares. It was touching to watch the young artist on the brink of success, not knowing he was about to have his dreams come true and just a short few years later, make some regrettable decisions. Next in the set were two songs from his debut, Why Georgia and Neon, the latter described as how Mayer grabs the attention of dragged-along boyfriends. Responding to not just a sign with a request, but a sign lit by bulbs to resemble a vanity mirror, John Mayer agreed to play a verse of Hotel Bathroom Song. For only the third time, he remembered it fully and played the song all the way through. Acknowledging that he was about to lose boyfriend points, next was the smash that soared Johnny first to the heights, Your Body Is A Wonderland. The song offered the night’s first big singalong where even a few tenor voices could be heard.
What a solo performance like this offered the artist was a chance for the setlist to pivot without a concern for video or lighting cues. And for the audience, it created an intimacy few shows can offer. Mayer is a born raconteur which makes listening to his banter almost as enjoyable as his music. Moving over to the piano, he next played New Light, You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me and Changing. Each of the three were beautifully played on solo keys, however the last piano song featured a loop where Mayer pulled out his trusty Silver Sky to rip a shredding solo. A video clip from the studio during the Continuum recording followed which led into one of the album’s standouts, Stop This Train. Who Says, a gorgeous rendition of Shouldn’t Matter but It Does and a resonator guitar-performed Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967. The next trio of songs featured Mayer on a double-necked acoustic guitar, which he used primarily as 12 string for intros and outros and 6 string for the in-between. These songs were A Face to Call Home, If I Ever Get Around to Living and Edge of Desire. Perhaps the greatest feature of this tour is how the simplicity of a single voice and instrument amplify the beauty within the song. This was clear for these last several songs played. After a brief pause and return, John Mayer ended the night with a double encore of Born and Raised and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’. With a wave to all sections of Scotiabank Arena, Eric Clapton’s It’s in the Way That You Use It played out his exit.
Earlier in the set and with a voice full of emotion, Mayer addressed the crowd saying “You let me play anything. I’ve waited so long to feel this sense of freedom”. Despite the insecurity of how the format of the show would be received, his anxiety wasn’t necessary. John Mayer started his career decades ago playing in the very same way, unaccompanied and with no way to hide. Eight studio albums, seven live albums and the same number of Grammy Awards later, John Mayer should be able to take some comfort. Although there are aspects of himself he seems to not take seriously, the music he produces is where he puts his greatest effort and concern. Running through a couple of dozen songs from a broader, much larger catalogue that could raise the voices and spirits of nearly 20,000 adoring (or dragged-along newborn) fans rarely happens by chance.
John Mayer’s Solo Acoustic tour continues next in Detroit winding west to conclude on April 14 with a hometown LA show at the Kia Forum. More info can be found here.