Photos: John Mayer at Red Rocks Amphitheatre day one - Reverb

John Mayer at Red Rocks Amphitheatre day one, 7-15-13 (photos, review)

During his first of two sold out shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Tuesday, John Mayer took a break to tell the nearly 10,000 gathered that this is “Not a normal musician/fan relationship.” And this sentiment was spot on, but not in the normal, hollow “musician compliments audience” type of way. There’s a wonderful dichotomy between performer and audience at a Mayer concert.

Here’s what I mean: The bulk of the audience goes to the Mayer concert to gush. He’ll pick up an acoustic guitar, play “Half of my Heart” or “Stop this Train” and the fans will scream and sing every word. For Mayer, on these songs it feels like he’s going through the motions. He performs, his gravely tone spot on and seductive as ever (though, occasionally weak on the high notes), and he’s done what he needs to do to make fans happy.

But it’s when he switches to his electric guitar that he truly emotes. On “Slow Dancing In a Burning Room,” the superstar, pop persona is torn down and there’s true passion in his peppering of solos. The problem is, the fans aren’t with him. Oh yes, they’ll patiently watch, but there’s nothing to sing along to about love or loneliness or more love.

So there’s a split there. Is he the heartthrob singer-songwriter? Or is he the shredder who has been named one of the best modern guitarists? The only explanation I could come up with is that he’s a fantastic musician who isn’t entirely convinced by his own music.

The disconnect continued beyond his music to his personality on stage. He seemed relaxed, humble, but completely on his own level. This is why he was so comfortable stopping the show to play a few songs for some dude in the crowd wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

Even lyrically, he pointed out how he’s often in his own world. Before playing “Waiting on the World to Change,” he mentioned that people normally think of it as a hopeless song, but he believes the exact opposite.

While attempting to grasp Mayer’s identity as a performer and as a musician, the concert flew by. Having started at 9 p.m., suddenly it was nearly 11. His technical ability, along with his band — who could follow wherever Mayer decided to take the song — were compelling to watch.

And finally, when Mayer performed “Gravity” near the end of the show, everyone seemed to be on the same page. He introduced the song with some honesty: He couldn’t really hit some of the notes on the chorus so he asked the crowd for help. Then, it was harmony between heartthrob and musician as Mayer bent that bluesy riff and the audience sang every word.

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Daniel Petty is a Denver-based photographer and social media editor at The Denver Post.

  • Joey Wickhem

    Matt, Excellent review of the show and the man who seems to be torn on how to get to be the guitarist he wants to be, and clearly is. It was an interesting show with many faces…. Even he said three years ago at RR he was at the end of what he first was.

  • Mike Ferguson

    I agree with you for the most part. I’m a huge fan and love the bluesy stuff as much as I do the pop perfection. But it was a somewhat uneven performance in my mind; starting with an extended “Queen of California” with a protracted piano solo really took both hands to hold on to; I like that track but sheesh–it doesn’t exactly grab one and get them excited. A skilled player? Indeed. Again, I’m a huge fan. But PLAY THE HITS! We got maybe 5 hits all night–fans behind me were shouting for “something from 2005!” Heaven help the poor fool that missed “Born and Raised” because he leaned on it heavily while playing a mere one track from his career making “Room For Squares”. Bottom line. Fans know the hits and want to hear the hits as they know them. See: Paul McCartney: playing Beatles songs for 50 yrs. Johnny needs to please himself AND the crowd. We all cheered and love him. But there were few sing-a-long moments in two hours.

    • Jesse

      Sounds like you didn’t get to hear as many old hits as you wanted to at the BORN AND RAISED TOUR. Some fan, to appreciate only specific parts of his music.

      • Mike Ferguson

        Jesse. Yup. You nailed it on the head-I’d have liked more hits. But you didn’t read all of my comments. I declared my love and appreciation for all his genres; the Trio album us amazing. I just wanted to hear a little more of everything the other night. A little balance. I loathe the Grateful Dead and he was inching a little too close for my tastes. I know it makes me sound like a complete square but I like good, pop/rock. Guilty as charged. And from the reaction of those around me, I’m not the only one.

  • Chloe

    Sounds like a good show. I just got to go see Michael Franti at red rocks, it was totally awesome! can’t wait to see him at the arise music festival this august!

    • Olivia

      I didn’t get to catch Michael this time, I heard it was pretty amazing though. I have heard some buzz about Arise, it sounds like it’s going to be really cool, I better check it out more!