John Mayer’s first EP was a self-released 1999 collection of songs he named Inside wants out, and over the past 23 years, the now 44-year-old songwriter and guitarist has definitely indulged. His facial expression has sometimes been to his own detriment (that dumb goof has said some pretty dumb shit over the years), but he’s always been in devotion to both fans, who are still obsessed with every second of his eight-album discography and one ubiquitous musical unknown he still chases nightly as a headliner and sideman for the Grateful Dead.
In front of nearly 14,000 Mayerheads at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Mayer and a band of nine spent two hours touching on almost every chapter of his career as part of a 19-song set in support of his latest album. Sobbing Rock (nothing from heavier things, paradise valley or Inside played, setlist below).
And as has been the trend lately, Mayer — who performed at Bob Weir’s New York album release party and “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” the day before the gig in Tampa — let his guitar do most of the talking.
Said six-string was almost always an iteration of his signature PRS Silver Sky, and the battle ax immediately shone, starting with the set and the sob-rock opener “Last Train Home,” where Mayer — clad in an oversized tan blazer, matching leather boots and blue Jeans—slowly rocked awake as the front-of-house mix found his voice amid big conga pop from Lenny Castro and synth waves from Jamie Muhoberac and Greg Phillinganes.
Mayer, who last played Amalie in 2017, and his wah pedal helped the PRS pull off a big solo scene on “Belief,” which set the songwriter on with some contented, urban country in the second half of “If I Ever Get Around.” -Rock To Living” and again on the signature riff of crowd favorite “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room”. Mayer even shared the Shredder spotlight with ace guitarist Isaiah Sharkey on smoldering twin solos during “Edge Of Desire.”
Sharkey is a guitarist’s guitarist, and like every musician in Mayer’s band, he has a credit list about half a mile long, but he and the rest of the ensemble — including bassist Pino Palladino, who featured on what might be the greatest album of all time , voodoo— were content to simply put the talent hotbed of Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the center of the show.
Sure, there were times, like on “Belief,” when you could really feel the presence of drummer Aaron Sterling, who was back in a lineup that kicked off the tour with ex-Tom Petty and Heartbreakers timekeeper Steve Ferrone . And yes, there was this moment during an encore of “New Light” where keyboardist Greg Phillinganes ebulliently joined vocalists Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts in the bandstand. David Ryan Harris’ falsetto on an abridged cover of Prince’s The Beautiful Ones remains legendary among Mayer fans.
But the collective of session aces were more than content helping Mayer bop (“Olivia”), laughing through vocal harmonies on a bridge (“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)), and just providing background for to deliver a now-mature album with bandleader who also still lets himself be the coffee shop kid, working through breakups over an open mic (“Emoji of a Wave”, “In Your Atmosphere”).
And the highlights really came through Sobbing Rock Songs where most of the crew on stage were clearly having a blast with Mayer’s new ’80s album. The stage often looked like the inside of a Trapper Keeper (especially on the soft rock banger “Shot In the Dark”). On “Wild Blue,” Mayer shrugged and produced his signature flawless guitar tone on another effortless solo that felt like driving home from the bar after three pints early, with the windows down in your two-door Ford Escort Mk3.
While Mayer’s guitar playing was the star of the show, he took a little time to poke fun at his relationship with “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” which put him on the map for better and worse, and “Edge Of Desire “to think” was probably the “emo song that I have in my repertoire”.
After a run-through of “Til the Right One Comes,” which morphed into a medley of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” Mayer got serious to thank fans for holding on Sobbing Rock songs even though they are almost a year old. He said the same for his entire body of work, which has been around for much, much longer.
“You keep these songs like they’re all happening right now, thanks,” he told Amalie Arena. “Thank you for putting all your energy into this music.”
When that tour wraps up next month and the dead take a break from the streets in July, Mayer will take some time to go back inside and search the depths of his mind for a plan to move through a new chapter in his life untied from his eight-record deal with Columbia and ready to start self-releasing again. At this point, a guitar is probably the only musical certainty in the equation, but fans can bet that when he’s ready, Mayer will be back, ready to let out everything he found in it.
Last train home
Shot in the dark
I don’t trust myself (in loving you)
Something like Olivia
I think I just feel like
in your atmosphere
Your body is a wonderland
(sound check song)
edge of desire
If I ever come to life
The Beautiful (Prince)
Slow dancing in a burning room
Until the right one comes along
You can call me Al (Paul Simon)
Shouldn’t matter, but it does
Listen to a playlist of songs from the show on Tidal.