It’s Saturday night, Cleveland! The place to be in the Rock and Roll Capital on the first weekend night in Spring 2023 just so happens to be a living room to listen to a guy in his 40s as he strums some solo acoustic tunes. Sound like a bad time? Perhaps! Unless, of course, the ‘living room’ is the multi-thousand capacity Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and that 40-year-old man is none other than seven-time Grammy-Award-winning guitar virtuoso, John Mayer, returning to his roots, sans-backing band, on his aptly titled ‘Solo’ tour.
The 1998 Berklee College of Music dropout is no stranger to Cleveland. First, Mayer braved the now-shuttered Peabody’s Downunder before upgrading (if one can call it that) to The Odeon on the East Bank of the Flats in 2002, and then returning the very next summer to headline Blossom Music Center. (That escalated quickly!)
“Back to You,” the first track off of Mayer’s 1999 debut EP, ‘Inside Wants Out,’ is a tune that more/less defined the sound of said EP and his follow-up full-length, ‘Room For Squares’ in 2001. Although this specific tune was omitted from the setlist, ‘BACK TO YOU’ (where YOU = EARLY JOHN MAYER) was the theme for tonight. Not so much heavy on the songs themselves, but the raw emotion and vulnerability that would ooze from Mayer as he powered his way through cheesy pop songs, in that sense, this show was a throwback to the turn of the millennium.
For the first time on his current solo trek, Mayer opened his show with his notable song, “Gravity” off of his 2006 gem, ‘Continuum.’ Mayer may have brought the living room to the FieldHouse, but the FieldHouse crowd was anything but a quiet night in. Another fan favorite, “Last Train Home” followed.
Prior to an early video break that showcased an interview with Mayer from 2002, Johnny Boy managed to pull off a cover of Beyonce’s “XO,” the first of four non-originals of the night. He later paid homage to some of the great musicians before him, covering “Friend of the Devil” by his friends/summer gig bandmates from Grateful Dead and the late Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin.” Both had the crowd singing along, drawing a smile from Mayer.
Following the quick interruption, Mayer returned with “No Such Thing,” (the silly, cliche-ridden tune about the ‘real world’ being a myth that first landed John on FM airwaves).
One of the better features of the show formats is that Mayer could take requests or change up the setlist at the drop of a hat. (No band to inform! No lighting sync necessary!) Many fans came armed with signs to try to convince John to hear their favorite song, and John happily obliged a few requests. “Drone Shot of my Yacht” and “Covered in Rain” were two sign-requested songs that it seemed were spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Mayer tickled the ivory while singing “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me,” (complete with a lead-in from his tune “New Light” and, naturally, a whistle solo.) Showcasing his deep instrumental talents, he looped his piano to back the guitar solo on “Changing.”
A double-neck guitar emerged for a trio of tunes before John exited the stage, only to return for a two-song encore, saying his final ‘goodnight’ to Cleveland with “Born and Raised.”
It’s no secret that Mayer is an impressive musician, but seeing him play stripped down brought a whole new meaning to that statement. He makes playing the guitar look effortless; playing every variation of the instrument that exists and transitioning between them with ease.
To add to the “concert in someone’s living room” vibe of the night, John frequently engaged with the crowd, reading signs and telling stories of whatever came to mind. You wouldn’t think someone who has spent so much time playing shows with a large band on stage would have such a stage presence, but being solo on the stage seemed to come so naturally to Mayer.