If the first images conjured up when thinking of John Mayer aren’t of the time he referred to his penis as a white supremacist or any of the other garbage that has fallen from his lips, one might be brought back to a simpler time. A time of coffee grounds and blind optimism. A time of waiting for the world to change and vague notions of activism.
In the nearly two decades of his career, the world has seen John Mayer become many things.
The San Francisco Chase Center show Sept. 16 saw Mayer fully realized as the chameleonic, multifaceted musician that his incredibly expansive discography has bred. The ebb and flow of his set never landed on one bank of genre, ricocheting from blues to folk, to pop, to the pleasant shores of nostalgic and psychedelic rock.
The show began with little fanfare but it did set a precedent for keeping fans’ eyes on the large screen behind the artist. Through the use of multicamera recordings and sometimes-questionable filters, it was odd to witness a live show that played out as if it was recorded.
The camera wandered from Mayer and his band to his back-up vocalists, the latter of which were heavily featured in the show. Although recent years have seen Mayer mostly out of the headlines, it’s worth mentioning that there were a lot of Black folks on that stage for someone with a problematic relationship with respecting Black people.
With that in mind, the opening lines of “Who Says” — perhaps the most widely known number Mayer played in the first half of his set — hit a little differently.
Even so, the ease and seamlessness that the crowd of talent accompanying Mayer brought to the song elevated the words “Who says I can’t be free? / From all of the things that I used to be / Re-write my history / Who says I can’t be free?”.
The sentiment of the lyrics was evidently deeply felt by the singalong of audience members.
This love continued as Mayer simmered back into familiar territory, the audience whooping and hollering as soon as the opening shots of “Waiting on the World to Change” began to play. It became clear where the singer draws so much of his fame from, even in 2019.
Each song seemed to be capped with stellar solos and crescendos that, while a privilege to witness, made sitting through a 24-song set taxing. While tonally the show was hardly stagnant, the concert reached a point where any number could’ve been a finale — the overall energy of the performance at odds with the moments when it began to drag.
This is what made Mayer’s choice to open the second part of the show acoustically intuitive, leading with fan favorites such as “Daughters” and an emotional “Free Fallin’” cover. From here, the second set began to define itself as the most accessible, featuring many of the hits Mayer has become known for.
Returning to his electric guitar for “Belief,” the stage and venue reached its most raucous yet. This reception continued through the gentle crooning of “Stop This Train,” where the audience lit up phones and echoed the tender lyrics. It was a moment of perfect stillness, one that grows and matures, nurturing the universal themes of the melody.
Mayer finished the song with an address of the crowd, noting, “You had those lights up and I had a thought. It’s all OK because we’re all on the same train together.” And that train wasn’t even at its most exciting stop when, a few moments later, Mayer brought out musical legends Bob Weir and Sammy Hagar for a performance of “Queen of California” that dissolved into the Grateful Dead classic “Fire on the Mountain.” It was a move that attempted to define the crowd, eliciting rampant excitement. Mayer’s tour with the band last year, a project cheekily known as Dead and Company, may have bred a whole new kind of fan, Mayer’s very own collection of dead heads.
Regardless, the tour of Mayer’s discography that was the show made it evident that the singer’s longevity lies in his adaptability and evolution. Mayer offered thanks to the crowd for their reception, stating “It’s music till I’m off the earth.” And as the final notes of the show jumped from Mayer’s country-esque “Born and Raised” to his meme-able “New Light,” it was clear that the musician has penned the blueprint for making that possible.