A chameleon in both his musical and love lives, Mayer brought a maturity to his musical vision on the San Diego stop of his current tour. His current sound is an amalgamation of his prior explorations of R ‘n B, acoustic and country/folk flavors. Indeed, he is a perfect gateway artist for younger folks unaware of ‘70s stalwarts like the Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton (several of whom were noticeable on the PA before the lights went down for Mayer’s performance).
Much of his new album evokes a Jerry Garcia vibe, and indeed the cover of the Dead’s “Going Down The Road” was a touchstone for the ‘70s sound of the evening. As Mayer’s setlist unfolded, there was a line from the ‘70s to the ‘80s with a heartfelt cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” Mayer paid homage to other Traveling Wilburys with a cover of “If Not For You” written by Bob Dylan and adopted by George Harrison.
The sunny desert backdrop evoked for some the New Mexico vistas of the recently departed Breaking Bad series. The backdrop evolved into a cosmic light show, reminiscent of the heavy water light shows back at the Fillmore.
The set opener “Queen of California” evoked Dave Alvin (title) and Bob Dylan (lyrics), but spins out its lilting melody in unique fashion as a pleasant blend of country and R ‘n B. The lap steel and canyon backdrop fit well with the pair of gospel-inflected backup singers.
“Waiting on the World to Change” featured yet another legacy touchstone with a closing riff from Curtis Mayfield’s 1965 “People Get Ready.” As with his benefit gig earlier in the week at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, Mayer stretched out on guitar, letting his jam band flag fly. When they adopted a twin lead guitar lineup, the band locked in quickly.
The spotlight often found Mayer hunched over his Fender fretboard in classic form. The acoustic guitar seemed his less favored guitar, perhaps he regrets coming back to it after declaring he was done with the acoustic sound several years ago. Nonetheless, the variety led to a nice rise and fall through the evening.
“Your Body Is A Wonderland” left the teenage girls ecstatic, with the parents a bit perplexed. Mayer’s vocals remain in fine form. In 2005 when he beat Prince, Seal and Elvis Costello for Best Male Pop Vocal some were baffled, but Mayer has proven his mettle.
Mayer played a long and generous set. He was gracious in the accolades from the adoring audience. He has captured and rebottled a great source of music.