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Interview:
Mayer Lets His Music Do The Talking At The Palace
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



AUBURN HILLS -- John Mayer made his faux paus. And his mea culpa.

Now he just wants to just shut up and make music.

At least that was the case on Friday night (Feb. 12) at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where Mayer and his band rolled in amidst controversy stemming from what have been perceived as sexist and racist -- and certainly explicit -- remarks in a new Playboy magazine interview. In Nashville two nights before, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter-guitarist had offered a tearful farewell and explanation for his comments.

But on Friday he let the music -- more than two hours of it -- do the talking, which was just fine with the enthusiastic 12,000 at the Palace who had clearly forgiven him his transgressions, if they were even aware of them in the first place..

Not that Mayer was muzzled, mind you. A chatterbox by nature, he talked about the joys of Friday nights and the weekend and Sylvester Stallone's 1987 arm-wrestling film "Over the Top," and explained why it was OK for even "non concert singers" to participate in the call-and-response coda at the end of "Half of My Heart." He steered away from interviews and controversies, but he did thank the crowd for "taking the weight off here" at one point of the show.

Mayer on stage is something different than the lovelorn balladeer of his biggest radio hits. On Friday there was no "Your Body is a Wonderland" or "Daughters;" instead he straddles an interesting line balancing the sex appeal that brings the women out -- in droves -- with six-string heroics that win over the same dudes you see at shows by the Dave Matthews Band or Widespread Panic or even The Dead. There's a reason a forebear like Eric Clapton has included Mayer in the lineup of his Crossroads Guitar Festivals, and the 32-year old showed why at the Palace when he stretched out on smoothly constructed solos during songs such as "Heartbreak Warfare," "Vultures," "Slow Dance" and "Say" -- not to mention his own funky reinvention of "Crossroads," the Robert Johnson blues staple that Clapton modernized in 1968 with Cream.

Mayer and his crackerjack seven-piece band not surprisingly focused on his latest album, delivering seven songs from last year's "Battle Studies," and he didn't completely ignore his hits, pulling out "Bigger Than My Body" and a solo acoustic rendition of "No Such Thing." "Waiting on the World to Change," however, was tossed off in a quickened ska arrangement that started with a Steve Jordan drum solo and morphed into an airy, soulful jam that showcased Detroit-born keyboardist Charlie Wilson before breaking into a bit of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer."

Mayer had a few other surprises like that, playing a couple verses and choruses of the Police's "Message in a Bottle" before "Why Georgia" and also referenced that group's "Wrapped Around Your Finger" during "Assassin." And he closed the first encore, "Who Says," with a couplet from Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound."

Mayer had help in the good vibes department from Michael Franti & Spearhead, who opening the evening with an hour-long set of joyful exposition of reggae- and hip-hop flavored material. Franti came off the stage to play a couple of songs from deep in the arena, and even in the lower grandstand, and finished by bringing a handful of children on stage to help him sing the group's big hit "Say Hey (I Love You)."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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