I first listened to John Mayer way back in 2002 thereabouts because of a summer dinner-dance organised by MASSOC, where my friends and I performed at. We covered Your Body is a Wonderland, and at that time I didn’t think much of his music then, thinking that he was another of those American pop singer songwriters in the vein of Mraz and Powter which were pretty much the buzz in them days. It wasn’t until a few years later that I saw Mayer was a superb guitarist, well-versed in the blues, thanks to YouTube. I began to pick up Heavier Things and Continuum, and when Battle Studies came out, I began to really take in his music. However, he began to move into that ‘cowboy phase’ with Born and Raised and Paradise Valley, during which time I found his stuff took a pretty long while to grow on me. His latest offering finally saw a return to, err… ‘normality’, but similarly, I saw myself still gravitating back to his Battle Studies material. As I had missed my chance to see Mayer play the likes of medium-sized venues in the days of Continuum or Battle Studies, I bit the bullet and bought a ticket to the Manchester Arena show, the last date of his 2019 World Tour which kicked off in New Zealand back in March.

Got to my seat a tad too early, and that was after getting a couple of tees from the merch stand. Mayer and his band got onstage at 8 PM sharp (no support) and kicked off the first set with Helpless from his current record. It wasn’t that the song wasn’t enjoyable but I already yearned for some familiarity, and Belief from Continuum, a record which Mayer had once said was his strongest body of work, came on next.

The set was divided into two halves, the first being a set list of Mayer alternating on the electric (no Fender in sight for the European leg) and his Martin acoustic, with the band. Who Says was defo my favourite in this half, with me in the audience shouting out the plan a trip to Japan alone bit as loud as I could. Despite having watched Mayer’s Where The Light Is blu-ray a while back, I’ve only noticed now how he tends to do a little jam with the band preluding some of the songs in the set so much so you have to second guess what the song is, like how they started the more familiar (to me) I Don’t Trust Myself. Love the squawky phase-y tone on his Stra… I mean, PRS Silver Sky.

Ending the first set with Edge of Desire, another one from Battle Studies, Mayer and the band left the stage for about ten minutes or so before he comes back for a short solo acoustic segment, kicking off with Emoji from his current record. Nice to hear this played acoustically. I’m glad this set included Daughters, one of his earlier stuff I like and reminded me of his fear of being labelled ‘sensitive songwriter guy’ if this became a hit. Mayer’s live sets commonly include a cover song – so, he played Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, much to the delight of the singing along punters. Personally, he could’ve played more of his own material. Stop This Train would’ve been a brilliant one to play at this point.

The second half then continues with the electric/acoustic set, and as I am typing this it kinda reminds me of a Bob Dylan gig, say about ten years ago. One song that I loved on this half was another one from Battle Studies – the Taylor Swift-duetted Half of my Heart, which was only played once in this European leg (played 5 times – the other times were once in Oz, and three in the USA leg). Both Half and Who Says resonate much with me as these songs were played on high rotation on my iTunes during my first ever trip to Japan (plan a trip to Japan alone – geddit?), so much so, these spawned this and this.

Slow Dancing has been on his set every night but this is a must see – I can’t believe I have not played the guitar for quite a while. Why Georgia from the first record was a pleasant surprise, and this was followed by Waiting on the World to Change from Continuum. Quite a conspicuous chunk of the set came from this record, further consolidating Mayer’s claim that this was still his solid work. The set ended with Gravity, instead of it being played in the encore. Interestingly, the encore started with the C&W-esque Roll It On Home (growing on me, I guess, this Montana side of JM). I guess this was apt as Manchester’s the last ever date of this tour and Mayer flew back to the ‘States the next morning, actually! The final song of the evening was New Light, accompanied by the kooky cheap music video played on the screen behind the band.

The Search for Everything sold about (only) half a million records in the US, and as many artistes/bands out there, touring is the best way to make money as compared to selling physical forms of music these days. Mayer had commented that touring isn’t something he preferred in his line of work as an artiste, but looks like he’s on the road again with Dead & Company in the US at the end of this month. One of the priciest tickets I’ve ever paid for but was well worth it. Only eight rows from stage right.

From left: David Ryan Harris (guitar, vocals), Tiffany Palmer (backing vocal), Pino Palladino (bass), JM, Aaron Sterling (drums), Carlos Rickets (backing vocal), Isaiah Sharkey (guitar), Jamie Muhoberac (keyboards) and Aaron Draper (percussion).
The photos on this post are all from Mayer’s Instagram, curated from his European leg of the world tour. The only one from Manchester is the one backstage at the Arena.

Manchester Arena 18.10.19 set: SET 1: Helpless / Belief / Love on the Weekend / On the Way Home / Who Says / Moving On and Getting Over / Clarity / Waitin’ on the Day / In the Blood / I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You) / Edge of Desire // SET 2: Emoji of a Wave (acoustic) / Daughters (acoustic) / Free Fallin’ (acoustic) / (Blues Run the Game intro) Queen of California / Rosie / Half of My Heart / Slow Dancing in a Burning Room / Why Georgia / Waiting on the World to Change / Gravity // Roll It On Home / New Light