John Mayer Sheds His Insecurities at The Forum

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Photo by Haley Bee

I felt old last night.

Not because I was amongst teeny boppers (I wasn’t) or anything like that. But because the John Mayer crowd I remember has grown up. At 32, I was probably the median age attendee at the legendary Forum for his 2nd LA stop on the Search For Everything tour. I should have felt like I fit right in. But I didn’t. I felt old. I had seen 5 other John Mayer shows all before 2008. And haven’t seen a proper JM show since. This wasn’t the crowd I remembered.

I have been following his career, of course. And have given every album, not a mere listen, but a respectful dissection of appreciation for an artist who has had such a strong influence on my musical awakening.

Maybe it’s our shared dichotomy of yearning for acceptance from both a soulless industry and a loving partner that has kept John Mayer a constant part of my life for the better part of 15 years. Or maybe it’s because I just really dig his music.

John Mayer’s set at the Forum was everything I could have asked for.

It was a master class in satisfying your core audience. There was only one moment of the evening which felt out of place and that was when Post Malone (and Tommy Lee on drums) joined the band on stage to jam Malone’s hit “Congratulations.” Despite the fact that Malone’s mic wasn’t turned on and Mayer rapped a verse, what set this apart from the rest of the concert was that no one in this audience seemed to care about Post Malone (or simply didn’t know who he was – despite his 1 billion+ streams). The entire evening was a celebration of John Mayer’s catalogue and career. But this moment was a celebration of top 40 – which does not exist in the Mayer orbit anymore. No matter how much he’d like it to.

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Photo by Mackenzie Curtis

The opener, The Night Game, was exceptional.

They sounded like The Police with the harmonies of The Eagles lodged securely in 1986, snare tones, synths and all. Lead by Martin Johnson’s soaring vocals, plush guitar tones and undeniable hooks, The Night Game will have no problem finding their audience. It was almost right on cue that my manager friend sitting next to me said towards the end of their set “this has got to be a high priority for the label” that Johnson explained that this bill wasn’t put together by a label or management and that Mayer heard their song on Spotify and sent them an email asking if they’d like to open a leg of his tour.

Spotify FTW.

I first discovered John Mayer while visiting the Exclusive Company CD store in Madison Wisconsin in late 2001.

I was 16 and this shop was where I found myself most weekends and some weeknights. It’s where I would line up at midnight awaiting the latest Dave Matthews Band release. I always gravitated towards the tall plastic “As Heard on Triple M” (our local “progressive radio” station) dividers that stuck out from various sections around the store like dusty beacons of discovery.

But on this cold Wisconsin winter afternoon I grabbed the CD next to the “as heard on Triple M” divider with a cover of a guy sitting on a couch next to a Novax electric guitar with the periodic table artistically decorating his face. I asked the clerk if he knew anything about it. He said that this CD came with a free bonus disc with two songs he loved – “Lenny” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and “Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix.

So I bought Room For Squares, went home and listened to it on my Discman.

As “No Such Thing” began filling the radio airwaves I was evangelizing this guy to my entire high school.

I stood front row for Mayer’s first national tour at the Barrymore Theater in the Spring of 2002 with 800 others. I saw him a few months later at the Alliant Energy Center arena just down the road after “Your Body is a Wonderland” took over the country.

My guitar playing friends and I would try and out play each other on the latest unreleased bootleg we discovered on Napster (shoutout to “Sucker”). And I studied the banter and bridge/intro/outro deviations of his solo acoustic performances in loud bars and coffee shops (well before people knew or cared who he was).

At one point I had learned half of Room For Squares on my acoustic guitar – but never could quite master the groove and pocket of “Neon.”

Hearing him effortlessly fly through this song last night – one of the most intricate, challenging, yet catchy acoustic guitar parts of the past two decades – took me right back to my basement in front of my family’s Dell computer with open where I spent countless hours shedding away.

The show at the Forum was broken up into 5 “Chapters.”

There was a giant screen behind the band introducing each Chapter like a Quentin Tarentino film. Chapter 1 was full band featuring the pocket of all pockets of Pino Palladino on bass and Steve Jordan on drums. Hotel Cafe staple David Ryan Harris was on rhythm guitar, jazz shredder Isaiah Sharkey on lead, Larry Goldings on keys and Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts on background vocals.

As my crew and I started guessing the opening song (a tradition I’ve employed for every JM and DMB show since my early teens), my buddy Andrew guessed right with the funkiest track off the new album “Helpless.” Everyone got on their feet to dance. They powered into the 3rd single off of Room For Squares, “Why Georgia” and the sing-a-long officially began. Followed up immediately by “I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You” a track off his best album (the triple Platinum, Grammy winning) Continuum. And we were off to the races.

After just 5 songs, the band rushed off stage, the stage went to black, house lights stayed off and the crew hopped up and transitioned the set. The backline slid behind the screen. The guitarist’s pedal boards disappeared and a bridge set piece took the stage for Chapter 2: Acoustic.

He played one of his most popular Spotify tracks, his cover of Beyonce’s XO and the aforementioned “Neon.”

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Photo by Amy Draheim

The production was incredibly impressive.

He stood on a giant screen which covered the entirety of the stage which morphed into water or a giant rug or a sheen white box. And the backdrop of another massive screen had the real-time editing artistry of a top-notch music video.

When Chapter 2 ended after just 3 songs, the stage cleared again and was quickly setup for Chapter 3: The Trio. A mini doc video played on the screen introducing the trio and the three powerhouses, Mayer, Palladino and Jordan returned to the stage. They kicked into “Vultures” and my section was back on its feet. It was clear that the crowd was made up of Mayer enthusiasts. Lifelong fans whose fandom was cemented with Continuum. He played 4 songs off of Continuum last night and each time one started, my section got back up.

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Photo by Joey Garner

He didn’t play the biggest hits of his career – “Daughters,” “Your Body is a Wonderland,” “Waiting on the World To Change,” “No Such Thing,” “Say,” “Half of My Heart,” or his cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” but no one seemed to care.

Towards the end of his set he thanked the audience for sticking with him over all these years and “propping up this tent.” He also humbly stated that he was trying to pick a setlist everyone was happy with. “Did I do an OK job?” It felt like he has come to terms with the fact that he is never going to be the hottest act on the radio again and can appreciate what he has built with his maturing fans who still love him.

Mayer has cemented his status as a legendary songwriter, guitarist and singer (in that order).

He has received accolades and approval from B.B. King and Eric Clapton to Herbie Hancock and The Dead. From Kanye West and Frank Ocean to Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. He has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone multiple times (his first being called a “Guitar God”). He has won 7 Grammys. And he has been invited back to Berklee College of Music (where he famously dropped out of after one year) multiple times to give masterclasses on songwriting, guitar and the music industry .

+Bonnaroo Is Not A Music Festival (John Mayer and The Dead review)

“I got my dream but I guess it got away from me…” – from “Dear Marie”

To non-fans, John Mayer became a dirty phrase inducing eye rolls and celebrity gossip. To fans, all of that was a distraction and collateral damage from an insecure artist begging for acceptance. He has seemed to outgrow his need to be accepted and has shed those insecurities. He is finally settling into himself and finding solid footing – embracing humility and the strongest parts of himself while keeping in check the ego-laden influences.

For the final song of the encore, the pinnacle of Continuum, “Gravity,” the famous Forum stars lit up the ceiling right as he sang “so keep me where the light is.”

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Photo by Andrew Kuo

The final Chapter: Epilogue, a singular upright piano was positioned center stage. When he finished, a door opened on the back screen and he walked out like the end of The Truman show.

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Photo by Amy Draheim

For a man who had a fairly normal, middle-class upbringing in the suburbs of Connecticut, tripped into superstardom, and had to learn to come to terms with the gaze of the world, it was a fitting way to close this chapter.

“Maybe it’s all a dream I’m having at seventeen / I don’t have tattoos / And very soon mother will be calling me / Saying ‘come up stairs, you got some work to do’ ” – From “If I Ever Get Around To Living”

I still have the t-shirt I bought at the Barrymore Theater with a baby Mayer face on the front and tour dates on the back. It now has paint stains from moving into my LA apartment to start my new life. Of all the clothes I’ve gotten rid of over the years, for some reason I can’t let this one go. Maybe it’s because it’s a moment in time I want to remember. Maybe it’s because it keeps me feeling young. Or maybe because as tattered as it has become over the years, it has maintained its form and integrity.

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Photo by Amy Draheim


Chapter 1: Full Band
Why Georgia
I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
Who Says
Moving On and Getting Over

Chapter 2: Acoustic
Emoji of a Wave
XO (Beyoncé cover)

Chapter 3: Trio
Wait Until Tomorrow
(The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
(Robert Johnson cover)

Chapter 4: Full Band (Reprise)
Still Feel Like Your Man / Congratulations
(with Post Malone on vocals/guitar, Tommy Lee on drums)
If I Ever Get Around to Living
(with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears snippet)
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
(with “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince intro, David Ryan Harris vocal)
Dear Marie

In the Blood
(with “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” by Otis Redding interpolation )

Chapter 5: Epilogue
You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me

8 Responses

  1. Elinor

    Show was perfect! A very accurate article! Really enjoyed reading it! :))

    • amanda

      Thank you so much. You were great I saw you on the river.

  2. Helen

    Great article and pictures! Love it@ Plus I live in Madison now so I know the places you are talking about and Triple M. You may feel old, but I remember teaching Georgia Why and a bunch of other JM tunes to my guitar students over the years. This article especially reminds me of a kid, Dan Htoo-Levine, who I taught from age 11 to 18 when he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. His did the whole 4 years and graduated. He was probably about 15 when he fell in love with John Mayer and he was just starting to write songs. Proud to say he has stuck with music and songwriting and he records and tours with various bands he has had over the years. And he teaches music now too in Boston. Very well written article!

  3. Mel

    Wow- great review. Perfectly describes us JM fans that have stuck with him through the highs and lows. Seen him live 7 times and I could care less which songs he plays. I love them all.

  4. JC

    Beautifully written, especially that last paragraph about holding on to that tshirt. I’m loving JM’s evolution – not just as a musician, but as a human being. He’s so much at peace now with himself and it shows on stage. Fascinating, no? More power to him. I hope to one day see the man LIVE in concert.

  5. leanna primiani

    Great review ari! Felt like I was there! He should be so happy someone cares as much as you do. Bravo!

  6. Desman

    “he has come to terms with the fact that he is never going to be the hottest act on the radio again and can appreciate what he has built with his maturing fans who still love him”

    Highly disagree! If the Chilli Peppers are currently one of the hottest acts on the radio in their 50s, at any moment Mayer can be on heavy rotation.

    Are you still ageist at 32? You’d think you would have grown out of it by now.

  7. JiaOnTheGo

    John Mayer is my musical awakening moment. I did not know who he was when he visited our office then and kept working. I like his music.