Any fourteen year old who picked up an acoustic guitar to fulfill their singer-songwriter dreams has sat at the end of their bed, staring at the wall of their bedroom imagining it’s an arena full of screaming fans. They’ve imagined creating a riff on guitar that’s instantly recognizable, and leaving the crowd speechless with their voice. These are common, but lofty dreams for any budding teenage musician that is typically interrupted with their mother shouting at them to come to dinner.
Whether he likes it or not, John Mayer is the modern-day model for such a scenario – especially being that the example above was his own background, too. But he’s in the marginal percentile of actually living out that fantasy. While many acts begin reserving arenas a year in advance of a tour, Mayer began putting the pieces of this solo tour together back in December, and hit the road earlier in March – A record time for a tour of this scale. Its surprising that Mayer – who has typically backed himself with musicians in the past, either with his own hand-picked band or with Dead & Company – was this excited to be alone onstage for the first time. At this scale, and without a band behind him, can Mayer still put up a good fight?
He certainly didn’t hold back any punches last night, starting his set with Slow Dancing in a Burning Room – a knockout punch right in the first round. This song has traditionally been reserved as one of his final songs on previous tours, the equivalent of “freebird” for Mayer fans. However, for his solo tour, he opted to perform it right out of the gate – indicating that the show was designed to appeal to both casual fans and die-hard aficionados. By serving up the dessert as the appetizer, Mayer shows us that the main course may actually be the best part of the menu.
John Mayer has never performed a show like this at this scale before. Tenured fans will remember his early shows at the Fine Line Music Cafe in the very early 00’s, before Mayer filled arenas like he does now. And while he’s come a very long way from music cafe’s, tonight’s show might as well have felt like it was a coffee shop. Mayer’s banter with the crowd felt more personal without a band waiting behind him, and he searched for signs in the crowd asking him to play songs, swapping songs in and out of the set, seemingly making up the setlist as the night went on. It also included a new song Mayer wrote – not from Sob Rock – but the night before. In The Neighborhood was written Friday night, while traveling in between St. Paul and Chicago. While the song itself may not quite be ready to be put onto tape, It shows Mayer’s desire to be vulnerable onstage, performing songs he’s written both twenty years ago – and twenty hours ago.
Mayers focus was on his acoustic catalog for most of the show, mostly performing songs from 2013’s Born and Raised, and his latest record Sob Rock, from 2021. The Twin Cities didn’t get a tour stop from Mayer after the release of Sob Rock, so it makes sense that we got a good four songs off the record, with Shot in The Dark, New Light, and Last Train Home getting the acoustic treatment, while he encored with a blusey, All I Want Is to Be With You on electric guitar. He teased the chords to Why You No Love Me? After performing Last Train Home, but said that the song was “In the penalty box”, an apt pun for the hockey-rink-turned-concert-arena Xcel Energy Center.
Well known songs from earlier in Mayer’s catalog also seemed to be serving a penalty in the setlist, with just two songs off each of Mayer’s prior records, including the fan-dubbed magnum opus Continuum. While there may have been some disappointed sign-holders looking for 3×5 and Gravity, Fans still got staples like Daughters, Your Body is a Wonderland and his cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin, Which was Mayer’s final song of the night.
Alongside the hits, however, Mayer fans were excited to hear some of the more rarer tunes. He brought back Split Screen Sadness from 2003’s Heavier Things, The rare, unreleased In Your Atmosphere, and a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run The Game, which transitioned into and likely inspired Mayer’s Queen of California.
Midwesterners have often felt jealous of coastal-resident musicians for pulling out all the stops at venues like NYC’s Madison Square Garden, or Los Angeles’s Forum. With special setlists or guest appearances from other musicians, it can be hard to recover from the FOMO if you’re aware of the happenings at these shows. Tonight, Mayer made us feel like we were at one of those special shows. It was a combination of rare and untested songs, alongside old favorites and even brand new songs. Not only is it a testament to aspiring guitar players and singer songwriters that these kind of end-of-the-bed dreams are still possible, but that the personality and vulnerability of this kind of performance is possible in a coffee shop, just as much as it is in an arena.