Mayer Keeps Providence Where The Light Is

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Between a full run of shows with Dead & Company and legs of his own tour on each end, John Mayer has been a busy man in 2019. On July 20, just two weeks after Dead & Co wrapped up in Colorado, I caught the second night of the North American leg of John’s 2019 World Tour in Providence. I double-dipped on the Dead earlier this summer, catching the Saratoga and Foxboro shows, but this was my first time seeing John on his own. He designed the tour to celebrate his entire career, so anything from his repertoire was fair game. Needless to say, I was pretty pumped for the show, especially when I walked in to pick up my tickets at will call and heard the sound check for “Heartbreak Warfare” from the lobby. The crowd was raring to go by the time John and his band took the stage, kicking things off with a roaring rendition of nothing other than “Heartbreak Warfare.” The band was locked in from the jump, and with the energy John channeled to deliver the line, “I don’t care if we don’t sleep at all tonight,” the song was a great choice to get the crowd going. From there, John transitioned into a newer hit, the laid-back “Love on the Weekend.” It’s a tune about a quick getaway with a lover, but with lines like “You’ve been working, and I’ve been waiting to pick you up and take you from this place,” it fit perfectly as a song about a musician coming into town to take his audience on a musical journey for a few hours. The first set featured a blend of old favorites, including “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and “No Such Thing,” and newer material, such as “Helpless” and “Changing,” both of which included extended jams for John to show off his explosive guitar chops. I had predicted to a friend that John would play “Dear Marie,” so when John delivered the emotional, folky number as the set one closer, I must have been the most excited person there.

Concerts with two sets rarely feature anything interesting during the break, but John had something unique planned for everyone who stayed in their seats. Back in his dressing room, John hopped on Instagram Live, connected it to the main screen, and did a spontaneous, five-minute mini-episode of “Current Mood,” an Instagram show he debuted last fall. He joked about how his security guard was hurting the sales at the merch stand in his dressing room, brought up his plan to kick off the second set with some acoustic numbers, and tried – unsuccessfully – to get Camila Cabello to join the stream. He then recuperated for about 15 minutes, and got back at it with one of my favorite deep cuts, “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.” He rounded out the short acoustic set with “Your Body is a Wonderland” – not before cracking jokes at his own expense about how a guy playing with the Grateful Dead is so well known for a bubblegum pop song – and his cover of the timeless “Free Fallin’.” From my vantage point by the side of the stage, the view of John onstage with a backdrop of cell phone lights was breathtaking. With that, the band rejoined him to deliver the stirring, reflective “In the Blood” and the groovy “Still Feel Like Your Man” before digging into more classics, including “Dreaming With a Broken Heart,” “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and “Waiting on the World to Change.” “Slow Dancing” featured band member David Ryan Harris delivering a soulful couple of verses of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” and John nailing two blistering solos, but for my money, the highlight of the second set was a rendition of “Queen of California” that smoothly transitioned into a Grateful Dead classic, “Fire on the Mountain,” as colorful visuals of iconic Dead symbols danced around the screen behind him. It was a clear indicator of how comfortable John has become playing the Dead’s music, and the audience loved it just as much as he did. On a personal level, “Queen of California” was the song that got me hooked on John’s music, and the nod to the Dead, a band I’ve grown to love thanks in part to John’s involvement with Dead & Co, was incredible. 

The regular set wrapped up with John’s newest single, the earnest “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” and the band stepped offstage for only a moment before the encore. Like the rest of the show, it was a well-coordinated mix of old and new, starting with a crowd favorite and emotional gut punch, “Gravity.” John absolutely let loose on guitar, backup singers Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts interpolated Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” and Ricketts delivered perhaps the most powerful moment of the night when he improvised a verse dedicated to his mother, who was in attendance. The final number of the night was the funky, danceable “New Light,” with clips from its quirky, low-budget music video rolling on the screen. The show proved once again that John is a rare breed of musician, with a remarkable ability to blend genres and a knack for bringing his best when fans turn out to see him.

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