Concert review: John Mayer at Amway Center

When you have an armload of hits, a concert could be as simple as putting them on the assembly line, but that’s not the way John Mayer rolls.

In a breezy two hours on Monday at Amway Center, Mayer played whatever crossed his mind, an approach that included subtle surprises at the expense of a few signature songs left by the wayside. That might have disappointed some fans, but it’s a small price for something rare on an arena stage:


Mayer warned hit-craving fans in the opening moments to shed expectations: “You’ll have a much better time tonight if you remember the feeling you had,” he advised the nearly packed house, “instead of the songs you heard.”

Dressed in khakis and denim, Mayer arrived without fireworks, elevated platforms or video montage to strum acoustic guitar to the lilting “Queen of California.” It’s the lead track on “Born and Raised” (2012), the first of two easy-rolling albums released since backlash from Mayer’s outspoken comments and subsequent vocal cord issues sidelined him for a few years.

He demonstrated the free-wheeling vibe by unveiling the seemingly encore-worthy “Waiting on the World to Change” in the early moments, bookended by less-exposed gems “Something Like Olivia” and “Who Says.” A faithful interpretation of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” helped set the groovy mood.

“On the Way Home” and “Wildfire” (both from this year’s “Paradise Valley”) recalled Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” country phase, thanks to slide and pedal steel guitar by band member Doug Pettibone (on loan from Lucinda Williams).  

Although chatty between songs, Mayer communicated best with his guitar, an instrument that he wields with a deft touch. He’s capable of coaxing fire, as he did in the extended electric coda to “Queen of California,” but he’s generally content to provide a warming flame. Moody interludes in “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and the “Gravity” encore injected emotion without unnecessary heroics.

Mayer’s restraint was echoed by other members of his flexible 7-piece backing band, an improvement over the one-dimensional roar of a forgettable opening set by American Idol product Phillip Phillips.

Going his own way, Mayer made the night memorable, even if he left out a few favorites.

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