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Something’s missing’ at John Mayer concert

Tim Masterton | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Arena rock just isn’t what it used to be. Very few musical artists belong playing in front of thousands and thousands of people or are even capable of it. Among this elite group would have to be rock giants like Metallica, U2, Kiss and Bruce Springsteen. But just because the venues can sell thousands of tickets does not mean that an artist should be playing domes and stadiums. John Mayer fits this last statement almost perfectly.This tour, in support of his newest album Heavier Things, rolled into suburban Chicago’s Allstate Arena, capacity 18,500, last Friday night. But the arena was not nearly this crowded, due to blocked out seats and just not selling out. The opening act, The Thorns, held the crowd’s interest well, despite its overwhelmingly short attention span.Once Mayer takes the stage, one might expect more crowd noise in general – screaming, young girls fainting … something, at least. But when he appeared, and throughout the night, the applause and cheering was never long-lasting, with the exception being before a three-song encore.Mayer switched between acoustic and electric guitar throughout the concert. He was backed by musicians on rhythm guitar, bass, piano, drums, trumpet and saxophone/clarinet. It made for some interesting arrangements and some prolonged jams that were more than just guitar solos, but again, the crowd did not respond much. They wanted to hear the songs they knew best, from his first album, Room for Squares, as heard on compact disc at home. I personally think it’s better to want this and be a John Mayer fan rather than being a boy band fan, but still, a lack of appreciation for music could be felt.Although Mayer does not have a deep musical catalog to draw from, he did mix things up as best as he could. He drew from both of his full-length albums. He even pointed out the fact that he was playing “deep album cuts” and that he’d get back to the songs they knew best soon enough, basically admitting he does know his audience well, in an almost cynical way.He played the crowd-pleasing hit “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” and even I will admit I enjoyed holding on a little tighter to the girl I brought with me that night. He also played his current single, “Bigger than My Body,” as well as a “Wonderland”-like new album cut, called “Come Back to Bed.” Musically, the show was outstanding. But this was the wrong crowd and venue to play drawn-out guitar solos. And even so, it was evident that they were meant primarily to fill time.From my seat up in section 214, row M, I was one of no more than ten people in the section to stand, or even want to stand, for any part of the show. The “adults” behind me even came prepared with binoculars and more than once yelled, “Down in front!” in my direction. And although they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever said, I laughed even harder as I stood tall in front of them throughout the show, all six feet, four inches of me. A concert in this size arena, especially if the demand for tickets is there, ends up drawing people who might not have otherwise come, good or bad – and, in this case, bad. These folks might have been better off saving some money and buying a John Mayer concert on DVD.Mayer also spoke in between songs about somewhat random, yet funny topics, including spending the holidays with family (“You gotta get your identity back after your family f***in’ stole it away from you”) and what he wants for Christmas (“I want world peace for the good countries, and for the bad … some sort of bowel disorder.”)The highlight of the concert was the three-song encore. It consisted of an acoustic cover of the Stevie Ray Vaughn song, “You’re Gonna Miss Me Baby,” as well as “St. Patrick’s Day” and “83,” two original songs from Mayer’s major label debut. The energy gradually built, and these songs were a strong close to a very solid show. He definitely left the crowd wanting more, but most probably only wanting more straight radio hits, played as originally recorded.In an ideal world, John Mayer would be able to perform for fans aged about 18 to 30, in a club that did not hold anywhere close to 18,000 people, for fans who would be willing to stand, cheer and appreciate improvised solos. But until then, catch John Mayer at an arena near you. He really does put on a good show.