Concert Reviews music

John Mayer shines through hits of old and new in Pittsburgh

The singer-songwriter brings a loose setlist complete with technicolor visuals, guitar serenades to PPG Paints Arena.

John Mayer has put a lot of work into re-crafting his image from former “ego addict” to sarcastic, next-door sound man. And his Sunday stop in Pittsburgh as part of his 2019 world tour was the apex of that newfound philosophy.

Mayer recently proclaimed on Instagram that he was most excited about the presentation of these upcoming shows, and boy, he did not disappoint on that front.

In a nod to a meme-worthy scene from “The Office,” the show began with a JCM Audio logo darting across the large screen on stage before hitting a corner and signaling showtime just shy of 8 p.m.

Mayer arrived to the stage with unexpected opener “Helpless” from 2017’s The Search for Everything. The chugging power chords and flying chorus proved worthy of such a prime spot, even if it lacks the wear and tear of Mayer’s bigger songs.

He segued into those out-of-reach tracks with the quiet and cozy “Who Says,” swapping in Pittsburgh for the Austin line. “Moving On and Getting Over” carried in the first bit of soul for the evening, while “Love on the Weekend” sunk right into that blissful “serotonin overflow” Mayer sings about so sweetly.

Mayer feels the love. Photo by Amanda Myers.

Someone in the audience shouted out that he was doing a great job, and Mayer took the remark in stride, commenting on how it’s always nice to hear that kind of reassurance among the collective applause.

It certainly was an audience of all ages: bouncing, blonde teenage girls, bearded guys sporting Grateful Dead shirts. And this was definitely no evening for the faint of heart or the unfamiliar with Mayer’s catalogue considering the 27-song, two-part setlist.

The first set continued with the chipper “Something Like Olivia” and country-rolling “Queen of California” off 2012’s Born and Raised. Mayer fumbled through a version of “Friends, Lovers or Nothing” via fan request and ended the set with the forgettable and ill-placed “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” his most recent single.

The stage design is also something that should be mentioned.

The uniquely shaped stage screen featured a cutout for simplistic nature scenes backlit in different shades. It worked well with the contrast of the songs, changing from fiery orange to cool mint to keep with the Current Mood (a reference to Mayer’s Instagram Live show).

After a 20-minute intermission, Mayer returned with deep cut “3×5” and cheesy, mega hit “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” The still 41-year-old heartthrob poked fun at the song saying how likes to stare intently into the eyes of guys with their girlfriends before performing the acoustic rendition.

He also threw in some covers with a falsetto-laced version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” and did a quiet undertaking of “Let My Love Open The Door” by Pete Townshend. This led into the “The Age of Worry” that featured the lyrics on screen to a ho-hum response from the audience.

Getting people out of their seat, “Still Feel Like Your Man” proved to be one of the grooviest moments of the light. Projections from the “Kill Bill” inspired video appeared behind him, dancing pandas and ninjas in one.

Mayer’s backing band was the driving force throughout the night. Guitarist David Harris turned heads with Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones;” his falsetto was surely heard by the purple one in the ether. His backing singers brought well-earned soul to the tail-end of “Gravity” with some Otis Redding. And bassist Pino Palladino (formerly of The Who) remained a rock solid force.

The jangly “Waiting on the World to Change” was one of the ultimate sing-along moments that transitioned into the heavy hitting “Gravity,” with Mayer at his peak.

John Mayer performs “Vultures.” Video by Amanda Myers.

The encore featured the quiet “Born and Raised,” sounding like a forgotten ’70s deepcut, complete with a harmonica around Mayer’s neck. The finale was a colorful celebration of Mayer’s new place in pop culture thanks to track “New Light.”

“I’m John Mayer and I’m ready to be a star,” the music video version of Mayer said before the video played behind him.

Cliche green screen effects and terrible dancing proved a nice tongue-in-cheek ending to the night, confetti flying into the air. Mayer proving, yet again, that he’s still got a lot of gas (and hits) left in the tank.

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