John Mayer Source: Associated Press

John Mayer Goes Solo in New Tour

Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Since John Mayer first rose to fame nearly 20 years ago with his breakout album "Room for Squares," he's spent more time on the road than he's spent off of it. Ten tours later–and a handful of hugely successful annual outings with Dead & Company–he's back at it solo with his 2019 world tour, which rolled into Providence's Dunkin' Donuts Center on July 20, the second stop in the three month, 44-date tour that will wrap up in the UK this October.

With seven studio albums and just as many Grammy Awards, it's been clear for a while now that for Mayer, it's always been about the music. Even when his highly publicized personal life became ubiquitous tabloid fodder that threatened to overshadow his talents, he continued to release the most varied and musically intelligent albums of his career. But as Mayer evolved from a cocksure boy with a guitar into a man with a musical legacy, it has remained clear that Mayer doesn't make music because he can, but rather because he must.

And that's never been as clear as it is now with this current summer tour, the first of Mayer's career without an opening act. He's opted instead to perform two full sets himself, culminating in about two dozen songs over two hours. Part of the thrill of a John Mayer concert is the unpredictability of his setlists: there's no deep cut he's unwilling to unearth, and there's no Grammy-winning chart-topper (ahem, "Daughters") that he's not willing to toss aside. Between the July 19 tour opener in Albany and this July 20 Providence concert, only about half the songs were performed both nights; there is a palpable electric spontaneity at a John Mayer concert that is unlike most other tours where setlists stagnate and seldom change. And being that this tour isn't in support of any one album, the setlist doesn't weigh too heavily in any one direction.

Mayer is rightly regarded as one of our great living guitarists, but he's also one of the great male pop vocalists of our time, and an underrated one at that. Despite a 2011 surgery on his vocal cords to remove a granuloma, his live vocals are distinctively not far off from his recorded ones. With early career songs like "No Such Thing," he sounds remarkably unaged, but the vocal highlights of the evening were the ballads, whether about heartbreak ("Dreaming With a Broken Heart;" "Slow Dancing In a Burning Room") or what feels like his constant search for self ("Waitin' On the Day;" "Gravity;" "In the Blood").

But, of course, it's those Mayerian guitar solos that provide the most thrills, to the point where each extended guitar solo is like its own little three-act play, elevating even the most mundane, skippable songs ("Changing") into a kind of high art. And let's face it: although Mayer has taken his fair share of abuse over the years, he's consistently proven that he is that rare bottle of lightning capable–and deserving–of packing arenas for two decades and counting.

For a list of dates on John Mayer's tour, visit his website.

by Christopher Ehlers

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