|Former Berklee student John Mayer wore a Red Sox jersey while performing at the Comcast Center. (Christina rizer for the boston globe)|
"And that's how you alienate a crowd!," announced a gleeful John Mayer after telling a story that involved lock-picking, hotel security, and bodily functions. But the audience at the
Mayer probably didn't do the former (and certainly didn't do the latter), but for two hours, the Berklee dropout did just about everything else to avoid disappointing. Much like Sting and his forays into jazz toward the start of his solo career, Mayer has rather famously been bitten by the blues bug of late, aspiring as much to Stevie Ray Vaughan as to James Taylor.
His challenge was to find a balance between the guitar-slinger and the smart-sensitive pop star that would satisfy both him and his audience, which Mayer did admirably. Despite the absence of two of his biggest, schmoopiest hits - "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Daughters" - most of his well-known songs were present and accounted for, from the easy funk of "Waiting on the World to Change" to the erratic-riffed "Bigger Than My Body." Even his jokily oddball, quasi-philosophical ramblings couldn't derail "Gravity," with the lyrical sweep of its chord progression and its hopeful, heart-on-the-sleeve conclusion.
Smartly, though, he didn't simply bank audience goodwill from his pop material so he could cash it in later. Accessibly bluesy, "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" and "Vultures" drew from Robert Cray's R&B-tinged approach, while Mayer's audacity in appropriating Eric Clapton's signature "Crossroads" paid off in a terrific reimagining propelled by a funky, popping guitar riff. He came closest to emulating Vaughan in his extended solo toward the end of "Ain't Nobody's Business," done up as a slow Memphis soul number.
Not long after that came "Good Love Is on the Way," a guitar freakout of an altogether different stripe, with Mayer adding a wah-wah solo to the song's James Gang punch. By show's end, he had combined Bruce Springsteen and Emmylou Harris, begun his own "Dreaming With a Broken Heart" with a verse of George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" and inserted a vocal echo of Alicia Keys's "No One" into the closing "Say." "It's all just music," said Mayer at one point, to a still-unalienated audience.
With a head of hair like a bad wig and the awkward, off-putting stage presence of the weird kid in high school with no social skills, opener Brett Dennen sounded like a less rhythmically-inclined Vampire Weekend playing castoffs from Paul Simon's "Graceland."