April 11, 2010
By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
Hey all you TMZ watchers: At the United Center Saturday John Mayer did not mention his dynamic use of sexual napalm, a certain appendage of his body that favors Southern white separatism and how your body is a wonderland only if you know how to pitch a tent near his face.
In fact during his set’s two hours and 40 minutes he made certain the audience knew enough was enough: Saturday was the final stop of a 47-date tour and he said he planned to do what all over-hyped, overexposed and oversexed media star needs to every couple of months: “get off the grid.” “I’m not Tweeting,” he said. “I deserve ten days off.”
Unfortunately the announcement was probably the most revealing thing he had in store during the sold-out show. Mayer, a 32-year-old soft rocker who puzzlingly downplays his serious guitar chops, is known by now as much as he is for his social media skills than he is for his guitar playing. He is an obsessive blogger, he Tweets, he uploads comic online videos, he gives naughty interviews he is forced to publicly recant but which ultimately help give him a bad boy image his music doesn’t provide.
Being so available has made this musician so accessible, especially to women who, as revealed by the continual camera takeaways on the big screen throughout the show, dominated the seats.
Despite a raspy croon that evokes fireside cuddle sessions, Mayer is a singer with a limited range, which meant he could not better what he had to work with – songs that were more textural than deepened with any structural punch.
Sounding epic with glittery guitar arpeggios and a heavy rhythmic drive, “Heartbreak Warfare” fit the massive setting but didn’t have anywhere to go past its opening moments. Other songs like “Vultures” or “Assassins” could not stand on their own so they became opportunities to stretch with his band – from Mayer’s vocal turntable scratching to exchanging guitar phrases with auxiliary guitarist David Ryan Harris to impressing the crowd by playing his guitar with a drumstick.
Another reliable technique in keeping the crowd engaged was continually referencing better songs they probably knew – providing snippets or full versions of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
Mayer was generous in giving time to his five-member band, some of which have a bit of fame of their own. Guitarist Robbie McIntosh is a long-time member of the Pretenders while drumming veteran has a long career playing with Eric Clapton and Keith Richards among many others. Both players got the spotlight throughout the night and helped deliver harder grooves to otherwise light pop fare like “No Such Thing.”
But their abilities didn’t persuade their boss to tighten up. Instead Mayer rested too much on his celebrity charm and didn’t seem very interested in pushing the band much further. He seemed more comfortable with the quasi-R&B of songs like “Perfectly Lonely,” where his guitar playing colored the spaces rather than drove them with any direction. “Waiting On the World to Change” turned into a 20-minute ramble that included a drum solo, references to Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and the introduction of opener Michael Franti who rapped about the virtues of each person on the stage, the rhymes of which the puppets on “Sesame Street” have him beat.
Mayer didn’t need to break a sweat because the crowd didn’t require him to from the start. They strayed just one moment when, in the introduction of the Petty cover, he announced that after the show he was going to hop a plane and head back to Los Angeles. Cue subsequent boos from the Chicago crowd.
“You’re booing me because I want to go home? I just want to go home,” he said. There was no doubt.