John Mayer’s more than 20-year catalog was on full display Friday night (March 24) at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. For two hours, the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and guitarist proved he’s an adept one-man band during the seventh date of his Solo Acoustic Arena Tour.
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Throughout the evening, Mayer alternated between multiple acoustic and electric guitars as well as piano and harmonica. He served as the sole artist on stage, save a surprise collaboration with Sheryl Crow on the standout “Strong Enough.”
Mayer launched into his 20-plus song set with fan favorite “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” from his critically acclaimed 2006 album Continuum. Seated alone onstage with his acoustic guitar, Mayer had the sold-out arena in the palm of his hand as the audience sang along word for word from the first verse. He then segued effortlessly into “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does,” off his latest project 2021 Sob Rock, and performed a snippet of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”
“Hi Nashville,” he said as he acknowledged the crowd for the first time four songs in. “I just want to say that I know I’m in the presence of a great many artists, writers, singers, songwriters, musicians themselves who are no stranger to playing their instrument onstage alone. The spirit is the same. Thank you for coming out to listen to me.”
Mayer’s storytelling and guitar handiwork was evident throughout as he took fans on a musical and life journey. Throwback videos of his early days were shown between songs – one around the release of 2001 debut Room for Squares ahead of his performance of “Neon” and another in the studio recording Continuum before the poignant “Stop This Train” – giving more personal insight to the man behind the hits. Both songs highlighted Mayer’s guitar chops with minute-long musical interludes and intricate guitar picking.
The audience knew the deep cuts, as well as Mayer’s hit singles, and this fact was not lost on the singer. “Every artist wishes they could play just the songs that they love,” he said. “Thank you guys for being so accepting. … I’m having so much gratitude for people with signs that say that I’ve written the soundtrack to your experiences in your life. That’s cooler than anything you could win, any email you can get saying, ‘Number one with a bullet, Johnny.’ That’s a really beautiful thing.”
He then read off the signs with song requests and performed a medley of some. “Something Like Olivia” kicked off the collection before he segued into “My Stupid Mouth,” “Daughters” and his own song preference, “Waitin’ On the Day” complete with harmonica.
“Let’s go to the next song. Oh, there’s a sign that says, ‘Play a new one nobody knows and stop the momentum of the show completely,’” he joked, as he pretended to read a fictional sign. “This is the town to play the new stuff.”
A song about drifting through life, Mayer’s emotive vocals and honest lyrics struck a chord alongside delicate strums of the guitar. Called my shrink the other day / Forgot what I was gonna say / So I lied and said I lost my way ’cause I couldn’t let him down / Put my leather jacket on / To play the part of bad boy John / A brokenhearted vagabond that wandered into town / ’Cause I’m driftin’ driftin’ driftin’ … Maybe someday, baby, I’ll drift into you.
While his vulnerabilities were shown throughout his lyrics, Mayer’s humor was also on full display. Ahead of “Who Says,” he counted off the song before realizing it was just him on stage.
“I don’t really need to count this off,” he admitted. “There’s no one else in the band and yet I’m counting off. It’s part of the song. Ready guys?”
Mayer’s set included his own one-man jam as he played piano with one hand and guitar with the other following a medley of “New Light,” “Changing” and “You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me,” the latter of which highlighted his mesmerizing falsetto. Later, he strapped on a Tim Teel-custom-built Martin double-neck acoustic guitar for the Born and Raised track “If I Ever Get Around to Living” and Battle Studies’ “Edge of Desire.”
Additional highlights featured a spirited performance of “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” a song he wrote when he was 21 (“I sing it totally sincerely. Even the part about the bubble gum”), and a surprise duet with Crow.
“She’s one of my favorite artists and one of my favorite people,” he said as he introduced the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee. “I first met her when she was a superstar and today she is a legend. Please welcome Sheryl Crow.”
Mayer took the backseat during the spirited performance of “Strong Enough,” assisting on harmonies and guitar as Crow sang lead. He followed the collaboration with another fan favorite, “In Your Atmosphere,” featured on the 2008 live project Where the Light Is.
Following a two-song encore of “Born and Raised” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” (also featured on Where the Light Is), the backdrop switched to read “John Mayer Solo.”
“I am, I’ve always been, and will continue to be, John Mayer,” Mayer quipped as he closed the two-hour performance. “I hope this was the show you were looking forward to.”
By the crowd’s response to every song, it’s safe to say it was.
.Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images