John Mayer is back. After a nearly two and a half year absence from the stage, the singer-songwriter is in the midst of a three month tour in support of an album released over a year ago, Born and Raised, as well as an upcoming record, Paradise Valley, scheduled to be released next month. The absence and unorthodox tour timing comes as a result of Mayer finally being cleared to sing again after multiple surgeries and recovery periods for granulomas that were discovered on his vocal cords in 2011. The road back to the stage was a long one, and one in which Mayer claims he took time to “look and listen.” He moved to Montana, started wearing work boots, and took on a persona of the everyman, hoping to shed his Lothario image and atone for some questionable public situations he’s found himself in the past.
When it comes to his skill as an axeman, Mayer hasn’t lost a step. The great thing about not being able to sing is that it gives you plenty of time to focus solely on your work as a guitarist, and Mayer obviously took advantage of it. His singer-songwriter sensibilities sometimes take away from the fact that he’s a phenomenal guitarist, but he always reminds the crowd at live shows. He’s not afraid to take a solo, and he did so liberally during Saturday night’s show in Dallas, stepping back from the mic to wail on his Fender over and over. The man has veritable soul, and his blues influences are on display every time he plugs in.
Nobody expected him to disappear during his recovery, but it had to feel good to see a near sold-out crowd at the Gexa Energy Pavilion in Fair Park, packed from the seating area up front to the general admission lawn section in the back, erupting when he launched into the opening strains of favorites like “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” and “In Your Atmosphere.”
The backdrop for the show was a massive hi-def screen that began as silhouetted mountains with any number of star formations, meteors and galactic visuals coming and going throughout. The second half of the show saw the scene transform, but all along the same lines of the outdoorsy theme. Mayer is clearly riding his newfound image hard, and the question becomes whether or not he means it. The storyline makes sense–a young rock star gets a dose of reality when he almost loses his ability to sing, takes stock of his life, and comes back renewed, changed, with Eddie Vedder sensibilities. I think it’s legit.
There wasn’t a terrible amount of the cockiness in his on-stage banter that has defined previous shows, and he simply looked like a dude playing music and having a blast doing so. Late in the night, Mayer spent a few minutes telling the crowd that he felt the transformation in his life recently: “I’m at a point where I’ve exceeded the selfishness and all of my boyhood dreams, and now I’m just enjoying coming out here and singing for you.” An inspirational sentiment, one that felt honest.
In many ways, this tour is simply Mayer getting back on the road and playing the brand of bluesy, post-VH1, emotional rock music he’s always been known for, but it also represents the first large-scale acknowledgement of the maturing of one of rock’s most entertaining acts. It happens to everyone at some point, and if the lead single “Paper Doll,” as well another new tune he played Saturday night, are any indication, his maturity hasn’t affected his ability to write major league pop. With his misguided comments and Taylor Swift-flavored mistakes behind him, I look forward to his transition from idol to icon.