There’s a term Hollywood executives use to describe “something for everyone” projects: four-quadrant movies. The idea being that a four-quadrant movie targets each of the major demographic quadrants: both male and female, and both over- and under-25s. A piece of art (and/or commercial product) that Boomers, Gen Xers, Millenials, Xennials, and Lil’ Nas Xials can all agree on.
Watching John Mayer play a packed Talking Stick Resort Arena on Tuesday, it struck me that the tousle-haired singer and axeman is a classic example of a four-quadrant pop star. He’s got the sensitive balladeering and good looks to win over young girls and their cougar mothers. He’s got enough burnout credibility with his Grateful Dead collabs and touring to earn the begrudging respect of druggy teenage Phishheads and their stoned uncles across the nation. Even your blues-loving gramps has to show John some respect, considering Mayer used to shred with OG blues gods like B.B. King. And when all else fails, he’s fluent enough in meme to get your edgelord kids on his side.
The jammed arena was testament enough to Mayer’s broad appeal. The bleachers were packed shoulder to shoulder with Mayer fiends from across all ages and demographics: the kind of diehard fans who break out into roaring cheers when Mayer’s album covers flashed on the projector screens during intermission. I’ve been to full-on stadium shows where the headliners didn’t elicit the kind of screaming that a GIF of “Room For Squares” inspired at Talking Stick.
If you were on the Mayer train back when “Room For Squares” left the station in 2001, it’d be very hard to imagine Mayer’s transformation from dorm-room softboy singer to a one-man Blueshammer from “Ghost World.” And yet there he was, busting out all the classic facial contortions as his fingers nimbly danced on his guitar neck: The Carlos Santana passing-a-kidney-stone wince, the Stevie Ray Vaughn O-face, the Chuck Berry duck-nod. Lest you try to pigeonhole him as the Your Body Is A Wonderland Guy, John Mayer is quick to remind everyone within earshot that he can noodle and riff with the best of them.
Mayer’s set was without much in the way of bells and whistles. Aside from an overhead video screen that projected desert vistas and bursts of bright colors (searing reds and magentas, mostly), there wasn’t much else to stimulate the crowd visually. Taking a page from his time with the Dead, Mayer let the music (and possibly illicit substances in the audience) do the crowd-pleasing. Joined onstage by a large backing band (including two percussionists and a pair of backup singers), Mayer kept his stage banter to a minimum and focused on singing and shredding his way through 20-plus songs.
In a true power move, Mayer opened for himself. He played two sets, separating them with an intermission. Wearing a gray suit jacket and T-shirt combo that looks like it was handed down to him by Elvis Costello circa 1978, Mayer kicked off his first set with a rousing rendition of “Belief.” The sound was clear and tight: No element in the band’s live sound dominated the mix or was dwarfed by it.
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Mayer’s Deadhead side popped up early with some liquid light projection to accompany “Who Says” while his Memelord side reared its head during “Clarity” when the band started interpolating “Africa” into the middle of that song. In the year of our Lord 2019, no live audience can be subjected to music for over an hour without Toto making an appearance.
Mayer’s setlist (which he changes from city to city) hopped all over his discography, leaping from old staples like “Daughters” to recent fare like “Carry Me Away.” Oftentimes, you can feel the energy of the room sag a bit when veteran acts play the newer stuff. But Mayer fans were as quick to cheer his recent work as they were to lose their minds over “Why Georgia.”
Despite his four-quadrant appeal, Mayer isn’t for everyone. But for folks like me who are not all aboard the Mayer train, it’s not hard to see why people like him. The man’s talent and instrumental chops are undeniable and his songs are catchy in a perfectly inoffensive way. He’s a musician that the whole family can agree on.
That lack of friction – the absence of sharp edges to his work – is probably why his fluid guitar solos failed to move me last night. Like the black hair sculpted on his head, his guitar parts are immaculately coiffed and styled. But there never was a single moment during his set where it felt like a hair or note could have sprung out of place.
Love on the Weekend
Waiting on the World to Change
Carry Me Away
Emoji of a Wav
In Your Atmosphere
Moving On and Getting Over
I Don’t Trust Myself
Half of My Heart
Edge Of Desire
Queen of California
I Guess I Just Feel Like
Slow Dancing In a Burning Room
In the Blood
Born and Raised
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