On Thursday, July 25th, John Mayer played his first of two shows at Madison Square Garden for his 2019 tour!
Most fans of John Mayer look to one, maybe two live performances in awe: “Where the Light is” and “On Any Given Thursday”. Both highlight two very different yet great eras of John’s career and playing. There’s a magic to those shows and most people wonder what it would be like to be at one of those concerts. A concert where the music is on the bleeding edge, where the emotion is raw, and the audience is truly connected to the performer. I believe- and many people who were there would agree- that Thursday, July 25th at Madison Square Garden in New York City was one of those shows.
Entering MSG, we were greeted by two long lines of people waiting to buy John’s new merch. John collaborated with Online Ceramics to create six new shirt designs, some inspired by John’s jokes. The “Big Shirt” shirt that is, in fact, a big shirt, was inspired by his 90-second joke song, “Big Shirt”. Additionally, John spoke about the “Curfew Boys” shirt in an Instagram post. “So most concert venues have a curfew, and almost all of them are enforced by way of a hefty fine,” wrote John, “If a show is running long, my tour manager (KEN) will tell me before the encore, along with the exact number of minutes I have until the fine kicks in. I remain undefeated, often with seconds to spare.” Alongside these shirts, other apparel like hats, stickers, notebooks, and keychains were on sale.
This year’s tour is quite unique in the fact that there isn’t an opening act. The show is simply two sets of just John playing with the full band as well as solo acoustic. “This is my first tour without an opening act,” said John in an Instagram post, “Two full sets of music allows me to make sure everybody gets what they came for.” Additionally, a widescreen projector is used on stage to not only allow everyone to see the stage but also create a movie-like feel that was interactive with the performance. The screen serves as a backdrop, projecting scenery and designs that go along with the performance, from a fun psychedelic animation while playing a Grateful Dead cover to a canyon scenery and synced up lyrics for “Age of Worry”. The use of a screen like this is not new for John as he used one during his 2017 tour. However, I think that this is a much better implementation of it. The last one also used scenery but overlaid live footage of the show overtop it. It created a good vibe, but it was hard to see the stage through that. This year’s
implementation didn’t have that problem. When showing the stage, the image was clear with the occasional use of a soft filter over it. In addition to that, it also played the music videos to the songs that had them and I especially loved that when John was ripping amazing guitar solos, it zoomed in on his hands, letting everyone see just how crazy it was.
The show opened with a parody of the DVD logo bouncing around the screen. When it finally hit the corner of the screen, the stadium erupted and John and the band arrived on stage. The first set consisted of “Belief”, “Love on the Weekend”, “Who Says”, “I Don’t Trust Myself (with loving you)”, “In the Blood”, “Waiting on the World to Change”, “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”, “Changing”, “Edge of Desire”, and a cover of the Grateful Dead song “Deal”. Vocally, John sounded pristine. Seeing him at the beginning of this tour meant hearing his voice with little to no vocal fatigue. Everything sounded as if it was right off the album. The guitar solos for “I Don’t Trust Myself” and “Changing” were amazing as well. He has a way of phrasing his
solos that gives you goosebumps. So much of this first set was so energetic. Every time the mention of New York City came up in “Who Says” the stadium erupted in cheers, and everyone lost it when they began to play “Deal” by the Grateful Dead. Everything about this set was an incredible build-up to what would be a particularly spectacular second set.
Where the last set was exciting and energetic, this one was emotional and a real connection between the audience and the performers was formed. John started off with “Emoji of a Wave”, and while playing it the entire stadium was singing along to the chorus as loud as they could; you could tell
that this song was special to so many of them. After the song, John said “Artists are always worried about whether anybody cares about this song or
that song or that song, and one of the most tried and true metrics is whether that song was ‘successful’, and the idea is that ‘well the people will let you know if it’s any good based on if it’s ‘successful’’. But I don’t know if that’s the right metric anymore because there’s nothing ‘successful’ about this song. But I worry and I go ‘maybe I shouldn’t go play that song tonight because it wasn’t ‘successful’’. And then when I start playing it and you sing along from your heart, it makes me want to cry all over you because you make me feel like I did have a reason to write it, so thank you.” He sounded emotional and filled with relief while saying this. He continued: “I never felt that before in my life. You guys are singing along to that song going like “John, you don’t have to worry about that song anymore, that means something to somebody, so forget if it’s ‘successful’.”
I would call it a great success if you’re singing along to it and it means something to you, so thank you.”
He followed this speech with “In Your Atmosphere” and “Free Falling”. During the latter, the entire stadium was lit with the lights of so many phones. It seems like a cliché, but being in that moment and seeing all of these lights is like seeing the stars you normally couldn’t see in New York. It really is a special feeling. Following that he played “Helpless”, “Something Like Olivia”, and “Still Feel Like Your Man”. The solos for “Helpless” and “Still Feel Like Your Man” were especially unique, each one going in a direction I haven’t seen before. During “Helpless”, John and Aaron Sterling did a very groovy breakdown and during “Still Feel Like Your Man”, they went completely into left field, changing keys entirely and creating a really funky bridge section. Then came “If I Ever Get Around to
Living”, one of my personal favorites. Isaiah Sharkey had an incredible, jaw-dropping solo, that even blew John away. If anyone had any doubts about him, they were all shattered with that solo. Following that was “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”, which was preluded by David Ryan Harris with his sensitive cover of “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince. The solo for “Slow Dancing” was so beyond belief with its phrasing- it was so beautiful and soulful that it gave me and everyone else chills.
Before moving on to his next song, “Age of Worry”, John spoke about his feelings with worry. “You know, I think I speak for everybody when I say that I look a lot of other people’s pain a lot all day. You read about people’s upset, or pain, or struggles, and I’m old enough now to read it from a different perspective of someone who’s had them. You know, once you’ve had them and you’ve moved through them; all the worry and all the fear and all of the ‘what if’, and “I’m not good enough,” you wish that other people could understand what you understand. That most of the worry meant nothing. And
maybe worry is a way of connecting with the world a bit more than you want to admit you’ve wanted. But all I know is that there’s too much of it, and most of it is unnecessary,” said John, “And once you move past it and you get older you see other people have real struggles with it, all you wish you could do is throw your arms around people and say like ‘oh you’ve gotta see what a thousand days looks like. You’ve gotta see what a thousand days after this looks like. It’s gonna be okay.’ So I hope there is something in here that you can take home with you and go “yeah I am gonna do that.” This is a permission slip, this song is a permission slip. It was one myself, that’s why I wrote it; it was a permission slip to myself and now it’s for you guys.” Following this speech, the performance was particularly powerful. You could tell that John was feeling so emotional and wanted to put on the best performance he possibly could. He even messed up while singing, but the audience didn’t mind. We were all along for this ride and just laughed it off knowing he was feeling it as much as we were.
The last two songs of the set were “Why Georgia” and “Dear Marie”. At this point, everyone was so happy and tuned in to the show that the crowd sang the bridge for “Why Georgia” alone and softly sang along to sweet sorrow of “Dear Marie”. “This is beyond ‘I wanna be well known.’ It’s now turned
into some other thing and you guys have brought me there. We get to all inhabit these songs together and I think about my life as I play, I was thinking about my life during “Why Georgia” and remembering parts of days that I never remembered until right then. Thank you guys so much. I hope more than anything that the people in your life are as patient with you and your coming of age and figuring yourself out as you have been with me,” said John, “Thank you for sticking around, waiting it out, and I just feel a wonderful sense of arrival to someplace that’s well beyond what I even thought was even on the menu and you have given me that. There’s something beyond it that I didn’t know existed, and it’s this. Thank you so much for introducing me to something I didn’t know existed which is just playing music for pure love with people who connect with it and therefore you connect with and that’s it. So thank you.”
The band left the stage, but only for a short time, as the whole stadium cheered for them to come back. They played two songs for the encore, the first being “Gravity”. There was a standout time during that song where they switched to “I Got Dreams to Remember”. The two backup vocalists, Tiffany Palmer, and Carlos Ricketts Jr. sang phenomenally as they riffed their own solo lines; everyone was floored by their voices. The final song was “New
Light”, where John started off by recreating the dance from the music video. The song ended in a beautiful moment when a burst of confetti fluttered down like cherry blossom leaves during spring in Japan. It was a perfect way to end off an amazing show.
Over the years, John has evolved as a songwriter and a guitarist. He has explored several genres from Pop, rock, blues, country, R&B, soul, and much more. He has joined the Dead & Company band, being fully embraced by diehard Dead fans of old and even collaborated with new hip hop artists, like Travis Scott, Khalid, Frank Ocean, and Daniel Caesar. They say that you are the sum of your attempt to be like those who inspire you. From the raw
energy of Stevie Ray Vaughn, the unmatched rhythm of Jimmi Hendrix, the soul of B.B. King, the sensitive phrasing of Jerry Garcia, the poetic lyricism of Bob Dylan, and the musicality of Bill Evans, his journey and experiences to be like all of them has created a style and feeling that is undeniably John Mayer.
During this show, we saw John ride on the edge with his music, playing to the absolute limit and searching for the things just beyond his reach. It wasn’t perfect and there were times where he made mistakes, but that’s what happens when you are performing at the edge of your ability. His solos that night explored his entire spectrum, from explosive to sensitive, bluesy to funky, and melodic to atonal. Not only that, but John gave his entire band a chance to shine, letting everyone take a
solo and expressing themselves. All of this culminated in a show that will likely never be forgotten by the attendees. As John said, “This is just a whole bunch of friends who want to sing along and we’re just renting out the room.”
You can get tickets for upcoming shows on the tour at johnmayer.com