John Mayer performs at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20. Source: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Review: John Mayer's 'Sob Rock' Tour was a Smash

Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 4 MIN.

After bringing his "Sob Rock" tour to 26 cities over six months, John Mayer wrapped up his tenth solo tour – his first in three years – with two epic concerts at Boston's TD Garden, smack dab in the middle of the Celtic's nail-biting push for the championship.

"Let's go, Celtics!" the crowd chanted as word spread that the Celtics had just beat the Bucks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in Milwaukee. "Let's go Celtics," Mayer repeated dryly. "Sure. Why not. Let's go Celtics." It was one of many such moments during the more than two-hour concert in which Mayer engaged with his fans, dissolving the barrier between spectator and artist, mortal and God, in a way that felt easy, reciprocal, and – yes – just like the old John Mayer song he never seems to perform live, comfortable.

It was my fifth time seeing Mayer in concert, the first being back in 2002 just after his debut album, "Room for Squares," came out. It was an outdoor concert in Central Park, and it poured the entire time. Funnily enough, I don't remember anything at all about the misery of it, only the way that the colored lights caught the rain falling like sheets in front of the stage and how I had hoped that Mayer wouldn't get electrocuted. That would be a terrible way to end a career – and a love affair – that had only just begun.

I didn't know a single song off that album when I first saw him play live, but I was in awe of how he played the guitar and was galvanized by the way that his lyrics spoke to me as a young man in ways that other artists making music at the time – Creed, Ashanti, Eminem, Nelly, and Shania Twain – were not. Since that rainy, undersold night in Central Park, I've seen him in four cities over twenty years and learned every word to his eight albums, including "Sob Rock," which he released last summer.

Mayer has always been praised for his guitar skills, with many including him on definitive lists of the greatest living guitar players. But he's also one of the greatest living songwriters and he deserves a lot more credit on that front. His vocals, too – smooth as butter, dynamic, and resolutely unique – are flawless. And as anyone who has seen him live will tell you, Mayer thrives on live performance.

At his first of two Boston concerts, his setlist favored "Sob Rock," obviously, and – somewhat surprisingly – 2012's "Born and Raised," his first foray into a more experimental Americana and folk sound. But the next night, he didn't play a single song off "Born and Raised," instead choosing to give more attention to "Room for Squares" and "Continuum," the album that many consider to be his masterwork. And that's part of the thrill of going to a John Mayer concert: You never know what he's going to play. That he and his flawless band can slip easily into any of the nearly hundred songs that he's recorded is a testament to both his talent and his artistry.

More often than not, he doesn't simply offer up a regurgitation of the recorded versions of his songs. Rather, Mayer and his band infuse the material with an electric spontaneity that is only possible in live performance. Most thrilling are the long, meandering guitar solos that he adds to some of his songs, such as in "Last Train Home," the pulsing, groovable concert opener, as well as "Helpless," during which he interpolated a bit of The Rolling Stones' "Miss You." He also tacked on impressive solos to "Your Body Is a Wonderland," a song Mayer almost seems embarrassed by now, in addition to "Wild Blue," "If I Ever Get Around to Living," and – finally – "Gravity," which is probably the best song he's ever written.

A creature of live performance, Mayer will take off for only about a month before he embarks on his next tour, which will be his last with Dead & Company, a band he's been touring with for the last seven years. Playing 20 outdoor dates in just over a month – including some of the country's biggest stadiums – it just might be summer's best party this side of Lady Gaga and Bad Bunny.

Mayer's artistry – and reverence for music in general – is apparent at every turn. He reminisced fondly about his days in Boston as a student at Berklee College of Music, walking down Newbury Street with his guitar on his back, expressing gratitude for both this full-circle moment – two sold-out shows in a city where he was once just a boy with a dream – as well as gratitude for "every measure of music tonight." And on that last front, the feeling – as it always is – was definitely mutual.

by Christopher Ehlers

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