REVIEW: John Mayer follows his own muse at Chase Center

John Mayer

John Mayer performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept. 16, 2019. Photos: Steve Carlson.

SAN FRANCISCO — About a third of the way into the first of his band’s two sets at Chase Center, John Mayer decided to look at himself as an outside observer. Not just anybody, but as a music critic, evaluating his set choices that focused quite a bit on newer material.

“You know the soundtrack to your life?” Mayer asked, inferring his early hits like “Your Body is a Wonderland.” “Well this isn’t it. I wrote it three weeks ago. Give it time.”

John Mayer

John Mayer performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept. 16, 2019.

The joke was in reference to 2019 single, “Carry Me Away,” his newest song. His original hit didn’t make the set on Monday, though he has played it off and on during his 2019 summer tour. Mayer then pretended to take notes on his palm, as a reviewer of his own performance.

“‘But Mayer acknowledged that the next song was not the soundtrack to people’s lives,'” he grumbled.

In 2019, John Mayer is not necessarily the smooth playboy he was at the start of his career. Nor is he only the slick bluesman, or the jam band sideman. He can be all those things, and he played all the roles on Monday. But more than anything, he remained unpredictable. At some of his shows, newer material was the focus. At others he’s focused on older tunes, and he’s even played his 2006 album, Continuum, on two occasions.

He and his band filed onto the stage in darkness and kicked into “Helpless,” one of seven tracks to make an appearance in the show from his most recent album, 2017’s The Search for Everything. A video screen juxtaposed him with backup vocalist Tiffany Palmer, who added extra life to the opener. Two percussionists flanked both sides of the stage, while the entire band numbered nine.

Mayer could have stepped on the gas but instead pumped the brakes with the folky, acoustic cut “Who Says,” from 2009’s Battle Studies; and the poppy, wistful love tune “Love on the Weekend,” another 2017 cut. Following the aforementioned “Carry Me Away,” he traded in his guitar for an electric for the bluesy “Moving On and Getting Over,” which featured his first virtuosic guitar soloing of the night.

John Mayer

John Mayer performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept. 16, 2019.

Following “Something Like Olivia,” from 2002’s Born and Raised, the band dug into the slow-building “Changing,” beginning with just the guitar and keys until the kick drum signaled in the rest of band. “I am not done changing,” Mayer crooned, more or less laying down his mission statement for the night.

The following “Waiting on the World to Change,” an obvious favorite from Continuum, included a funky snippet of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).” The set name game (“Changing” to “Waiting on the World to Change”) continued with the casually meandering “Waiting on the Day,” before Mayer brought the first part of the show to a close with the mid-tempo “I Don’t Trust Myself.”

As he wailed away on a killer guitar solo, fog enveloped him, looking more like steam, turning the song sensual.

The second set brought more surprises in the form of guest appearances, as well as more bouncing back and forth between Mayer’s numerous strengths. He began not with a bang but with an emotional story of a relationship that ended, but not his love for an ex. He told the story in the middle of “Emoji of a Wave,” which he performed alone on stage. He and the former flame would exchange messages from time to time. The messages were wordless, often with just a “👋.”

“You’d be surprised how OK it made it to see that emoji of a wave,” he said.

Next came “Daughters,” with just a percussionist joining Mayer on a shaker, but it was a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” that got the loudest applause of the night to that point. It was about to change.

Mayer again cranked up the intensity on “Belief,” a Continuum cut that featured an extremely sexy intro, a much-needed injection of pace, and a dirty, distorted bridge that the show was calling for. Following “Why Georgia,” another fan favorite, and “Stop This Train,” Mayer used “Rosie” as a reason to again wail away at his electric guitar.

John Mayer

John Mayer performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept. 16, 2019.

At that point he invited a Birkenstock-wearing Bob Weir on stage—it was only a matter of time since Weir, a local, is his bandmate in Dead and Company—for “Queen of California,” off Born and Raised. As the song was nearing its end, and the two jammed together in the middle of the stage, Sammy Hagar jogged in to sing on Grateful Dead tune “Fire on the Mountain.”

After “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room,” “In the Blood” and “Gravity,” Mayer brought the show to a close with Born and Raised‘s title track and another 2019 single, “New Light.” It was clear that John Mayer is looking not to his past accomplishments but to what’s next.

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