The West has always symbolized new beginnings for Americans, so it makes sense that John Mayer would embrace a western feel on his “Born and Raised Tour” — his first since vocal cord issues forced him to take nearly two years off from performing.
Wearing a denim, Western-style shirt, Mayer opened his concert Saturday at the MidFlorida Amphitheatre in Tampa by singing the country-flavored “Queen of California” in front of a desert canyon and night sky backdrop that looked like the perfect spot for a journeying cowboy to camp under the stars.
As for the unmistakable John Mayer voice — one of the great, lazy Sunday morning croons of all time — don't worry, it's back. Mayer sounded strong singing “Wildfire” and “Waiting on the Day” from his new album “Paradise Valley,” before putting his bluesy spin on Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” and The Grateful Dead's “Friend of the Devil.”
Mayer's guitar virtuosity was, of course, never in question. He peppered Saturday's set with lots of gleeful acoustic and electric guitar wizardry, and even played a monstrous solo on "If I Ever Get Around to Living" with a guitar strapped behind his back. An hour into the set, Mayer was already on his 14th guitar change of the night.
So much of Mayer's live shows — and really, his whole career — has been a balancing act. On record, he's walked the line between being an unpolished and "authentic" songwriter, aspiring toward James Taylor or Dylan-esque respect, and being a pop star who makes highly-produced radio hits. In concert, he has had to balance a third aspect: the guitar master's desire to jam.
On this tour, Mayer has found the right amount of each ingredient. He knows how many deep cuts he can play before it's time to bring up the energy with "Your Body is a Wonderland" or "Waiting on the World to Change." He knows exactly how far he can walk a guitar solo before it goes from jaw-dropping to yawn-inducing. He knows when it's time for him to be alone on the darkened stage with just a spotlight and a guitar, and when it's time to bring back his terrific backing band.
Part of what makes this current tour great is that Mayer has so much quality new material to play live for the first time. The throat issues stopped him from touring behind 2012's "Born and Raised" until now, and his latest album, "Paradise Valley," which came out Aug. 20, has some of the best songwriting of his career.
Another part though, is that Mayer, 35, seems to have fully embraced his place in music.
Discussing his choice to go with a less radio-ready sound on "Paradise Valley," Mayer sounded content in a recent interview with Jian Ghomeshi on "Studio Q," saying "I have collided accidentally with success in pop music, from time to time."
The stage setup on this tour, centered around a giant, changing backdrop, also has to be mentioned. From the shooting stars over the desert sky, to the simulated aurora borealis, to the weird, burning, floating tumbleweeds, it was dazzling, without being distracting, and the perfect vibe for an open-air amphitheater.
The two-hours-plus that Mayer was on stage flew by, and it didn't feel like anyone would have complained if he'd kept on going.
Phillip Phillips, winner of Season 11 of “American Idol,” opened the show.
JOHN MAYER TAMPA SETLIST
"Queen of California"
"Waiting on the Day"
"You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down"
"Something Like Olivia"
"Don't Stop Believin'" (Journey cover)
"Friend of the Devil"(Grateful Dead cover)
"Your Body Is A Wonderland"
"Waiting on the World to Change"
"Born and Raised"
"If I Ever Get Around to Living"
"I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)"
"The Age of Worry"
"Slow Dancing in a Burning Room"
"On the Way Home"