Full of Surprises, John Mayer Trio Thrills in NorCal

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Pino Palladino (left), Steve Jordan and John Mayer perform at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, on July 29. (Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

As he demonstrated July 29 at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, John Mayer’s continued willingness and ability to both adapt and surprise has helped him maintain an enthusiastic concert audience over the years.

From his beginnings as a pop star (and occasional tabloid fodder) the singer/songwriter/blues-inspired guitarist has embraced his identity as a serious-minded musician who has teamed up with Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett and Herbie Hancock and whose work has been recorded by the likes of Joshua Redman and Audra McDonald. And as he proved at the Shoreline Amphitheater, he’s able to leave hits such as “No Such Thing” and “Your Body Is A Wonderland” off the set list and still have fans bubbling with enthusiasm through the very end.

Mayer’s current “The Search For Everything World Tour” is billed as a three-part affair promising “full band/acoustic/John Mayer Trio” sets. There were two surprises even at the start of his two hour and ten minute show: As billed, the concert started with a full band—akin to opening with a couple of popular songs as opposed to saving one’s firepower for later.

Mayer’s group—which included two other guitarists, a keyboardist and two backing vocalists doubling on percussion—also featured bass guitarist Pino Palladino (The Who, D’Angelo, Chris Dave & The Drumhedz) and drummer Steve Jordan (Sonny Rollins, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones) in fundamental roles. These players make up two-thirds of the John Mayer Trio, and it was surprising to see both instrumental titans from the very beginning of the show.

Under the banner of “Chapter 1: Full Band” the octet performed a five-song set that included three numbers from The Search For Everything, which was released on Columbia Records in mid-April. Commencing with “Wildfire” (also the opening cut of his previous album, 2013’s Paradise Valley), Mayer and company conveyed a broad, handclap-infused Americana aesthetic.

“Helpless,” the first of three consecutive tunes from The Search For Everything, followed with Jordan later looking like he was triggering electronic drum sounds on the lead-off single, “Love On The Weekend.” (In between, Mayer mentioned that he’d been on the same stage back in June with Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spin-off featuring co-founders Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann and longtime member Mickey Hart.) “Changing” closed out the first chapter and featured an extended electric guitar outro solo by the bandleader, who was spurred on by Jordan’s sweeping drum fills.

Before delving into “Chapter 2: Acoustic,” Mayer explained that he enjoyed the freedom of this segment of the night. Unaccompanied at first, he could play whatever song came to mind. The original version of “Daughters,” which has been receiving radio and music video play since 2003, featured only his voice, electric guitar and shaker, he pointed out. Switching from electric to acoustic guitar, he was joined by Jordan in that percussive role.

He added harmonica for his own “Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey” and was joined on acoustic guitar by band member David Ryan Harris for an impromptu and truncated version of Don Henley and Stevie Nicks’ “Leather & Lace” before delivering a full acoustic duo version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”

A brief pre-taped video with all three members of the John Mayer Trio introduced the group. Jordan switched to a smaller drum set opposite his regular one, Mayer slipped off his in-ear monitors, and as the power trio played together, one could hear how the group might have served as a creative a bridge between Mayer’s pop-rock years and his start with Dead & Company in late 2015.

Mayer’s own “Who Did You Think I Was” and the trio-penned “Good Love Is On The Way” showcased not only his guitar playing but a more guttural singing style as well. Jordan gave a powerful, cymbal-and-toms workout on the introduction to Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” and it was a treat to hear Palladino lay down a walking bassline on the standard “Every Day I Have The Blues.”

The group reconvened for “Chapter Four: Full Band (Reprise)” with a tight version of the Grateful Dead’s “They Love Each Other” serving as a highlight of the five-song set. Mayer mentioned that those unfamiliar with the Dead’s extensive back catalog would find the song among the band’s funkier numbers. (The Shoreline was one of the Bay Area–based Grateful Dead’s “home court” venues, and Saturday was the first time the band covered this song.) Palladino played steady, double bass-like half notes on “In The Blood” and was able to channel his inner James Jamerson on “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.”

When Mayer finally introduced the rest of the band, he revealed that the man at the keyboards in the dark baseball cap was none other than Larry Goldings. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to those who scan liner notes, as the keyboardist contributed extensively to The Search For Everything. But Goldings’ one-time boss James Taylor was headlining some 35 miles north at AT&T Park, so the going assumption was that the organist/synthesizer player would be up in San Francisco.

The first two songs of the encore returned to the acoustic format, albeit in a group setting, with Goldings playing accordion and only Palladino sticking to his usual electric instrument for the whimsical “Who Says” and the Grammy-winning “Waiting On The World To Change.” A full-band electric version of “Gravity”—another Grammy winner, appropriately enough, was first recorded by the John Mayer Trio, concluded just after 11:00 p.m., with both the crowd and band sounding like they could easily have gone on for another half hour. DB


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January 2018
Esperanza Spalding
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