John Mayer chose Albany to open his 2019 tour at the Times Union Center, and a sold-out crowd was there to greet him. Playing two full sets that each could have been stand-alone concerts, Mayer required no opening band for his fans, some of whom held up signs with recommended setlists.
Mayer casually strode across the neon backlit stage after band members set up, picked up his guitar, and gave the room chills during this heatwave with his easy, bluesy playing. They would play two full songs before Mayer greeted the crowd with a gentle “Good Evening,” and he swapped out his electric guitar for his acoustic one. The stage was bathed in purple light as Mayer responded to a fan holding up requested songs, “You’re going to get your way, well at least half of your requests” he smiled. The crowd was entranced.
There was a mix of old and new songs, songs from Mayer’s earlier career as well as hits from the present. The crowd sang along as he played “Who Says You Can’t Get Stoned” like they were away at a summer camp, except the volume of the singalong was higher.
Mayer and his band took a few longer breaks between songs, leading one to wonder if this first night together performing brought up some unexpected moments they needed to problem solve. But no problems came through to the crowd; Mayer’s relaxed performance, joined by his very joyful band of 8 musicians, seemed like it was simply a continuation of a longer standing tour.
Mayer announced mid-first set “Hey we’re back everybody” with a big grin and was very chatty with the crowd. He struggled to let go of the fan’s request list, even sharing he has “low-grade guilt” thinking of a fan holding a sign and getting disappointed during his performance. He presented as a giant sweetheart, seeking to please others and humble about his own musical talent. He even gently shifted his setlist to include a fan’s request, stating, “So I did some thinking,” and added “Age of Worry” to the second set to please her.
Mayer is talented, too, possibly beyond what most folks who listen to him on the radio will realize. He started in Boston’s Berklee School of Music but left the conservatory to begin performing before completing his degree. Mayer pulls melodies out of the guitar like magic; his fingers look incredibly loose as he moves them over the strings, and somehow he brings a great groove line out of the instrument. It looks effortless, but as anyone who has ever played guitar knows, that reflects years of practice.
His lyrics, too, often reflect aching and longing that the timbre of the guitar matches perfectly. Sometimes sounding like bluegrass, other times like pop, and again changing to blues, Mayer’s versatility is constantly pronounced.
By set two, the laser cut backdrop had added some trees and sun, and some fun (if not irrelevant) visuals played behind the band as they performed “Still Feel Like Your Man.” The dancing panda was completely adorable on the video, bringing a lighter vibe out. He shifted back to blues quickly with “Love is a Verb,” where he stayed for a few more songs.
Mayer can really do anything, and the crowd at the Times Union was swaying with him, mesmerized by not only his talent but the clear talent of fellow guitar player Isiah Sharkey. Sharkey has emerged as a guitar giant in his own right, and many fans were screaming out his name in recognition of his also stunningly riffs on the guitar.
For many fans, the best song of the night was the raw and brutally honest “In the Blood,” a recent hit by Mayer that asks if we can escape our family of origin or if we are forever slaves to repeat earlier generations’ mistakes. The crowd was clapping and singing along with the lyrics, highlights of which were on the screen overhead. This is a brutal song, if really listened to, and was a truly intense and authentic experience to watch Mayer take so many in the audience on this honest line of inquiry.
Mayer followed with a more upbeat but similarly honest “Waiting on the World to Change.” He thanked the crowd for keeping the songs alive, stating “We only play these songs because you’ve made these great songs.” He spoke about how each song brought him back to earlier days, and noted that songs hold memories for all of us, allowing us to go back and visit our earlier selves.
Mayer is a thinker, an artist who attempts to reach for joy but isn’t afraid to grind into anxiety, sadness, lost love and the depths of despair. His writing and playing reflect that with integrity, and this resonates with fans who see themselves in that very human and raw experience.
By the close of the concert, Mayer had performed 27 songs, some of which included long jam sessions showcasing the guitar talent he shares with band members. And he never missed a beat.
Set One: Belief, Love on the Weekend, Who Says, Helpless, Moving On and Getting Over, Something Like Olivia, Edge of Desire, Vultures, Wildfire, I Guess I Just Feel Like
Set Two: The Age of Worry(Acoustic), Emoji of a Wave(Acoustic), Daughters(Acoustic), Something’s Missing(Acoustic)(First verse only), In Your Atmosphere(Acoustic)(First part only), Still Feel Like Your Man, Love Is a Verb, Why Georgia, The Beautiful Ones(Prince cover) (David Ryan Harris solo), Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, Rosie, If I Ever Get Around to Living, In the Blood, Waiting on the World to Change, Gravity
Encore: Born and Raised, New Light