February 08, 2010

On Battle Studies Tour, Mayer Triumphs in Tampa

John Mayer, 2/5/10 in Tampa; photo © Donald Gibson
It often seems that to admit to enjoying the music of John Mayer, one must develop certain defense mechanisms in order to deflect criticism from those who give more credence to the drama of John Mayer. Granted, the artist has admittedly done himself few favors in this department, as evidenced most recently with his less-than-flattering Rolling Stone interview. Yet, regardless of however self-absorbed he seems or whatever character flaws he may have, Mayer regards his craft and, perhaps more importantly, his audience, with consummate sincerity.

Friday night (2/5) at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, on just the second night of his U.S. tour in support of his latest LP, Battle Studies, Mayer engineered a purposeful and stirring two-hour performance that showcased the album nearly in full (playing nine of its eleven songs) along with a handful of older selections that served the primary material well.

On his most thematically cohesive effort to date, Mayer contextualizes Battle Studies by looking at intimate relationships as having an adversarial dynamic, rife with selfish motives and deep-seated suspicions. And he reflected as such in his performance, inciting “Heartbreak Warfare” at the outset amid an intense, simmering groove. On other album cuts, most notably “Edge of Desire” and “Assassin,” Mayer fared even better, his impassioned sentiments benefiting from the precision and richness of his stellar seven-piece band.

Mayer summoned other highlights with a jazz-flavored version of “Waiting On The World To Change” (that segued into The Police’s “Walking On The Moon”) as well as with one of his earliest hits, “No Such Thing,” which inspired the biggest audience singalong of the night. Capping off the main set with an extended take on “Gravity,” Mayer was exhilarating on the guitar, making the inevitable encore — a couple of acoustic moments, with “Who Says” and “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing” — seem a bit anticlimactic in comparison. Even still, Mayer proved himself an inspiring musician overall, giving his audience one more reason to appreciate his talent.