John Mayer Rocks Out in Columbus

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Friday, March 12th, 2010 at Nationwide Arena
Photos by Ryan Reeves of Front Stage Photography

It’s Friday night and Nationwide Arena is absolutely packed. Opener Michael Franti and his reggae/rap group Spearhead have just concluded a very energetic and talented set. I was more than impressed, actually.  I have never heard Franti’s music, but I am tempted to look into it.  Not only was the music great, including recent hit “Say Hey (I love you),” but they genuinely seem like nice guys, too. They got the whole crowd involved, singing and jumping around. A few lucky people (and some kids) even got up on stage with Franti and sang along. People were really into it.

That was about 30 minutes ago. I look around me now at all these loud, boisterous Ohioans, and I can feel thick, heavy anticipation hovering around me. Finally, the moment has arrived. A netted veil seems to envelope the whole stage as a few mysterious silhouettes appear from behind. It’s no mystery though. One of those silhouettes is John Mayer, and the screaming girl beside me knows it.  As the veil pulls away, a casually-clad Mayer is revealed, along with two other guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and some back-up singers. Hundreds of people are screaming now, and my ear drums are losing sensation. As the screaming (sort of) subsides, I hear the beginning of “Heartbreak Warfare.”

Mayer’s entire set was fun, classy, and heartfelt. There were some old favorites such as “Why Georgia,” some fun covers, and of course, the latest from Mayer’s fourth studio album, Battle Studies.  Although perhaps not one of my favorite Mayer albums, I find his new direction towards the blues/rock genre both intriguing and exciting. The concert highlighted much of Mayer’s new musical direction, and some interesting between-song monologues about Mayer’s personal life and passion for music. The set also featured some fabulous guitar solos, and a great three to four minute drum solo performed by Steve Jordan.

A few well-known covers were also thrown into the mix, including songs from Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Journey, and Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” although not the best version I’ve ever heard, was cleverly weaved into Mayer’s “3X5.” While the covers were not what I would call musically “spectacular,” it was fun to see everyone in Nationwide singing along…particularly during Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The encore was perhaps my favorite part of the entire evening. The stage was completely dark, as Mayer reappeared (in the spotlight) to perform “Who Says.” Last (but definitely not least), an energetic performance of Mayer’s “Gravity” ended the night with an explosion of blues-seasoned guitar work, including a fabulous solo by Mayer in which he literally placed his guitar on the ground and rocked out.

All in all, the concert was a great time for everybody. From Franti’s energetic set to Mayer’s intricate solos, the music totally rocked. It wasn’t my favorite Mayer concert of all time, but you really get the sense he is taking a new direction with his music…and perhaps his personal life as well? Although Mayer’s recent public comments and big mouth have left many wondering about the character of this spectacular musician, tonight in Columbus, Mayer (thankfully) let his guitar do all the talking.

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