MANSFIELD -- Roll the recently departed Phish over and tell Dave Matthews the news: There's a new king of the underage jam set. And his name is John Mayer.
Braving a threatening sky and traffic woes compounded by weekend warriors heading for the beach as well as by punk loyalists en route to the Vans Warped Tour's 10th anniversary show in neighboring Foxborough, the denizens of Abercrombie & Fitch nation descended on the Tweeter Center en masse Friday and nearly sold out the venue. Not bad for what has been described by many industry insiders as the worst summer concert season in recent memory.
Unfortunately, what the fans got for their efforts was a relatively bland, by-the-numbers set that found the former Berklee College of Music student channeling the likes of Robert Cray. Mayer's dexterity with the guitar, be it acoustic or electric, is undeniable. What is in question is how much genuine soul goes into his compositions, which at points sounded like a series of prom theme choices.
If nothing else, Mayer certainly looks the part of monarch of this kingdom with his boyish good looks and casually unkempt attire. Yet even such hit singles as "No Such Thing," with its declaration of wanting to "run through the halls of my high school," were met with unconditional approval by an audience that in many cases is probably only a couple of weeks away from being able to act the lyric out. The result was that the artist was never pushed to do more than go through the motions.
Mayer's cover of Eric Clapton's "Old Love" seemed to give listeners a peek into the workings of his musical mind. Not even diehard Clapton fans would argue that the slow, 1989 adult-contempo fare (ironically co-written with Cray) compares with the material Clapton was creating at Mayer's age. Property owners need not fear any "Mayer is God" graffiti showing up on their fences any time soon.
Even his breakout hit, "Your Body Is a Wonderland," was burdened by a goofy call-and-response that drove the song into the ground and countless fans to the exits. In order to approach the status of his idols, Mayer needs to dig for deeper inspiration than simple emulation.
Maroon 5 delivered its poppy hit "Harder to Breathe" with a stronger punch than its recorded version, but its cover of Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine" was an embarrassment. The band fared better on AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," but one was left to question why a replacement drummer played the set only to have the band's regular timekeeper, Ryan Dusick, don a guitar for this song.
The evening began with a set by DJ Logic that may have been aimed at making the bill more hip but was lost on most who arrived only for the latter two acts.