I considered last night’s performance a test of my John Mayer probationary period.

There was a possibility that Mayer’s ACL Festival performance had been a fluke, that perhaps I had just been in a particularly receptive mood (or suffering sunstroke) when I grooved my way through the set. Maybe I had been so convinced that the guy’s stage performances had taken a nose-dive post-2001 that I had been too surprised to examine it critically. Maybe my water had been spiked with something. Maybe his water or drinks had been spiked with something.

Sure, I was willing to give Mayer’s UMASS show a shot, but I wasn’t going to walk in naive. I’d attended bad frustrating Mayer shows in the past and this one could go either way.

Somehow, it managed to go both ways at once.

On one hand: the guy can shred, rock, work it, groove, whatever. After years of my New John vs. Old John internal debate, I finally acquiesce: I’ll take the bluesy electric man I’m listening to post-college over the acoustic guy whose chords I sighed over as an undergrad. Yes, please, I’d like some more.

By which I mean the addition of “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” “Covered In Rain” or “Neon” to the setlist, please. “Slow Dancing” makes sense, the sets being appropriately Continuum-happy and all, but I actually think either “Rain” or “Neon” would make even more sense, given the simmer factor now inherent in a Mayer set. If one is going to fit “Room for Squares” or same-era material into this kind of a show, wouldn’t it be nice to select the material that fits within the general vibe of the set?

Instead, I discovered, having happily grooved my way through the triple whammy of “The Heart of Life,” “Belief” and “Waiting on the World to Change” mid-set that Mayer was going to grace us with “Why Georgia,” the second of what would become a triptych of Yesteryear Hits performed last night during his too-short set.

Why, John, why? Yes, “Georgia,” “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “No Such Thing” were received with boisterous shrieks and singalongs, but the transitions from the blues to the bright and peppy pop were jarringly sharp — and they made it clear just how much better Mayer’s music has become over the past few years. Was he trying to appease the crowd or show us how much he has developed? Both?

I do still (and always will) miss the intimate feel of the early shows I attended. Last night’s crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, particularly when compared to the Sparkle Motion crowd that was a part of the SPAC show that hammered in the final nail the coffin of my first round of Mayer listening. It had all happened too quickly for me as a listener back then — now that I recognize how popular he is, I can take it all with a grain of sea salt and at least appreciate the swanky neon stage setup John and the crew are utilizing these days.

But as I stood there, singing the Taco Stand version of “Wonderland” with Beth and KJ, I thought of Paradise, standing at against the edge of the stage, realizing that if friends and I happened to, say, sing along to “I played a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shakers” with particular gusto, John would look down and snicker at us…

…not that we ever did that.



Oh, John. Good set. He passed probation…but still bittersweet.

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