March 20, 2023
Review: John Mayer is Remarkable in his First Totally Solo Tour
Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 2 MIN.
In the 21 years since his generation-defining debut album was released, John Mayer has been a constant fixture on the road, headlining 11 tours and co-headlining four more, in addition to his eight years playing with Dead & Company. But this new tour marks a first for Mayer: it's his first solo show, and there's a reason it sold out almost instantly: it's an enormously special occasion.
Finishing off in Los Angeles on April 14, Mayer's solo outing will play nearly two dozen shows over the span of a month. Hitting the road for the first time without his band, Mayer–one of the greatest living guitar players–plays a variety of instruments, from a double-neck Martin and an electric guitar to a piano and a couple pedalboards. Seeing Mayer at the piano is a particular delight, and despite this being the sixth time I've seen him play live, I believe it's the first time I've seen him at the piano. His stripped down take on "New Light" and "Changing" are highlights, but his heartbreaking "You're Gonna Live Forever in Me" is a performance I've been hoping for since he released the song in 2017.
Mayer's musicianship–which has only gotten sweeter with age–shines through in a way that cements his status as one of the greats, and while that musicianship is on display all the time, it is particularly striking and satisfying this time around. Also free from the confines, if there is such a thing, by having a full band, Mayer can play what he pleases when he wants to play it. He can skip songs on the setlist–as he did in Boston–or make some last-minute additions, as he is likely to do for the duration of this tour. But it's also his banter that is more entertaining during this go-around, the quirkiness of which has become a hallmark of both Mayer's live shows and his persona in general. Those that love Mayer will tell you: the banter is exquisite, whether he's telling poignant stories about his father lending him money as a broke college student or making fun of an audience member's handmade poster.
In roughly two dozen songs over the span of two hours, Mayer delivers something of a guided tour through some of his best albums, focusing mostly on 2012's "Born and Raised" and 2002's "Room for Squares." Subsequent dates focused more on 2009's "Battle Studies" and 2006's "Continuum," so there is always a certain amount of excitement going into a John Mayer show because his setlist is never exactly the same twice.
Like his talent and good looks, his live shows get better with age. I was 16 years old when I saw Mayer for the first time, at an outdoor stage in Central Park just before he made it big. All these years later, it's still a supreme thrill to be in the same room at Mayer. And judging by the tens of thousands of screaming, crying fans that fill each arena, I'm in good company.