John Mayer’s skills on the guitar are undeniable. Boasting on his extraordinary instrumental gifts, Mayer ripped through his repertoire in his 21-song set during his April 6 performance at the Verizon Center. From full band instrumentals to solo acoustics, Mayer proved that in addition to being a songsmith, crooner and celebrity, he remains a technical virtuoso.
Continuing the second week of Mayer’s world tour, the concert opened with “Belief,” a song off his “Continuum” album and one of the musician’s most political tracks. Mayer sang, “What puts a folded flag inside his mother’s hand? Belief can, belief can,” before embarking on a blistering guitar solo that set the tone for the rest of his guitar-laden show. The concert’s first set contained five songs, including a stripped-down performance of November single “Love on the Weekend” and “Vultures.”
Visually, the show featured a minimalistic stage with ample space between each musician. A large digital screen behind the performers displayed different imagery with every song: a solid blue for “Belief,” a cityscape for “Love on the Weekend” and a Japanese pagoda for several of his solo acoustic songs, including “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Mayer’s rendition of “Your Body is a Wonderland” included an introductory speech describing the 2001 bubblegum pop hit as a song written with “pure intentions,” despite critics forever labeling Mayer as “the guy who wrote that one song.” Aside from this introduction, Mayer kept his verbal interactions with the audience at a minimum, possibly aware of his reputation as an earnest talker at shows. Despite sometimes interacting with the D.C. crowd — including ad-libbing, “It’s been a long night in Bethesda too,” on “Who Says” — Mayer mainly focused on the music, packing in as much material as possible.
Mayer began the set list with his full band, an eight-person group including keyboard, backing vocals, guitars, bass and drums. The band quickly settled into an easy chemistry and groove that gelled throughout the 135-minute show. Mayer warmly introduced Isaiah Sharkey, the newest member of his touring band. As lead guitarist, Sharkey took advantage of the ample musical space Mayer provided during the performance of “Stitched Up,” laying down a dazzling solo dripping with jazz and rhythm and blues influences.
During the middle of the concert, the John Mayer Trio commanded the stage for a three-song set. The trio, featuring drummer Steve Jordan of the The Blues Brothers and Late Night with David Letterman and bassist Pino Palladino from The Who filled Verizon Center with a powerful sound that excited listeners. Blazing through covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and “Bold as Love” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the trio’s 20-minute set satiated fans of true musicianship, revealing Mayer’s ability to play alongside some of the industry’s most elite rhythm section players.
Mayer also included songs from his latest album, “The Search for Everything.” While playing one of its tracks, “Moving On and Getting Over,” he indulged in lighthearted commands to the band to continue the groove after stopping several times. Later, during the encore, Mayer wallowed in his latest R&B single, “Still Feel Like Your Man,” for over seven minutes, gratifying his guitar fans with numerous solos.
Happily singing along with bubbly tunes and swaying cellphone flashlights during intimate melodies, the audience was charitable with its applause and encouraged a three-song encore, which ended with a melancholic performance of his January single, “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.” The digital screen behind Mayer’s lone silhouette and the floor below him shone a bright white background before the singing audience. Mayer did not have a guitar for this last song, trading it for the soft tones of a small, digital piano at center stage. Having proven his masterful handle of the guitar — blues, rock, pop and otherwise — Mayer set out to make his lasting impression that of a meaningful artist and songwriter. When he finished, the seven-time Grammy Award winner rose from his seat, put his hands to his heart, bowed and exited through a door in the white screen behind him.