April 07, 2022

Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)

Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
John Mayer’s first EP was a self-released 1999 collection of songs he called Inside Wants Out, and over the last 23 years, the now 44-year-old songwriter and guitarist has definitely indulged. His expression has sometimes been to his own detriment (that stupid mouth has said some pretty dumb shit over the years), but it’s always been in dedication to both fans who’re still obsessed with seemining every second of his eight-album discography and an omnipresent musical unknown he’s still chasing each night as a headliner and as sideman in the Grateful Dead.

For nearly 14,000 Mayerheads at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Mayer and a nine-piece band spent two-hours touching nearly every chapter of his career as part of a 19-song set in support of his latest album, Sob Rock (nothing from Heavier Things, Paradise Valley or Inside was played, setlist below).

And as has been the trend lately, Mayer—who appeared at Bob Weir’s New York City album release party and “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” on the day before the Tampa gig—let his guitar do most of the talking.

Said six-string was almost always some iteration of his signature PRS Silver Sky, and the battle ax shone immediately, starting with set and Sob Rock opener “Last Train Home” where Mayer—dressed in an oversized tan blazer, matching leather boots and blue jeans—slowly rocked himself awake while the front of house mix found his vocal amidst big conga pops from Lenny Castro and waves of synth by Jamie Muhoberac and Greg Phillinganes.

Mayer, who last played Amalie in 2017, and his wah pedal helped the PRS make a scene with big solos on “Belief” that left the songwriter looking pleased, city-slicker country-rock on the second half of “If I Ever Get Around To Living,” and again on the signature riff from crowd-favorite “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.” Mayer even shared the shredder’s 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 has a credits list about half-a-mile long, but he and the rest of the ensemble—including bassist Pino Palladino, who played on perhaps the greatest album of all-time, Voodoo—were content to just let the talent front Bridgeport, Connecticut be 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 the Heartbreakers timekeeper Steve Ferrone. And, yes, there was that moment during an encore performance of “New Light” where keyboardist Greg Phillinganes exuberantly joined vocalists Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts on the bandstand. David Ryan Harris’ falsetto on an abridged cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” is and always will be legendary among the Mayer faithful.

Greg Phillinganes (L) and David Ryan Harris - Photo by Phil DeSimone
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Greg Phillinganes (L) and David Ryan Harris
But the collective of session aces was more than content to help Mayer bop (“Olivia”), laugh through vocal harmonies on a bridge (“I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)) and simply provide the backdrop for a now mature bandleader who also still lets himself be the coffeeshop kid working through breakups during an open mic (“Emoji of a Wave,” “In Your Atmosphere”).

And the high points truly came on Sob Rock songs where the lot of the crew onstage was clearly having a shitload of fun with Mayer’s new ‘80s-flavored 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 shoulder-shimmied and produced his signature impeccable guitar tone on yet another effortless solo that felt kind of like driving home early from the bar after three beers, with the windows down on your two-door Ford Escort Mk3.

While Mayer’s guitar playing was the star of the show, he did make 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 muse that “Edge Of Desire” was probably the “most emo song I have in my repertoire.”

After a run through “Til the Right One Comes” that turned into a medley of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” Mayer turned serious to thank fans for holding onto Sob Rock songs despite them being nearly 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 feeling kind of like they're all happening right now, thank you,” he told Amalie Arena. “Thank you for imbuing all your energy into this music.”

When this tour wraps next month, and the Dead take a break from the road in July, Mayer will take some time to head back inside and plomb the depths of his mind for a plan to move through a new chapter in his life—untethered from his eight-record deal with Columbia and ready to self-release music again. At this point, a guitar is probably the only musical certainty in the equation, but fans can bet that when Mayer’s ready, he’ll come back ready to let whatever he found in there, out again.

Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Setlist
Last Train Home
Shot In the Dark
I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
Belief
Who Says
Something Like Olivia
I Guess I Just Feel Like
Emoji Of A Wave
In Your Atmosphere
Free Fallin’
Your Body Is Wonderland
Wild Blue
(Soundcheck song)
Edge Of Desire
If I Ever Get Around To Living
The Beautiful Ones (Prince)
Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
Til the Right One Comes
You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Gravity

Shouldn't Matter But It Does
New Light

Listen to a playlist of songs from the show on Tidal.
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Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Review: John Mayer lets guitar do the talking and welcomes Tampa into his ‘Sob Rock’ fantasyland (w/photos)
Photo by Phil DeSimone

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.