September 30, 2005

John Mayer switches to the blues, but will the teenyboppers follow?

There's a new soul brother in town, and he's…John Mayer?

Yeah, I didn't think so, either. Until I saw it.

Forget everything you know about John Mayer. Forget "Why Georgia, Why?," "Your Body Is A Wonderland," and "Bigger Than My Body." Please, please, please forget "Daughters." Forget all about his collared shirts and church-boy look.

John is now one-third of the John Mayer Trio, a blues-based rock group that played the House of Blues on September 21. He didn't play any more romantic, first-date songs. Instead he played the kind of jam you put on when you're back at your place for "a drink" with that special someone. The set was chock full of funky bass, jazzy licks, shoulder shrugs, and lip-biting.

I wouldn't even have guessed it was good-ol'-boy John Mayer—he doesn't sport the short frat boy hair anymore. It's now shaggy and falls into his eyes. He's thrown out the Banana Republic gear and switched to blue jeans and a black, pinstriped blazer. Only a handful of times did I even recognize the voice that sang "Come Back to Bed" now soulfully belting it out. Is the guy who plays those catchy acoustic love songs the same one in front of me with the serious spirit fingers up and down the fret board?

This reinvention has brought out a new energy in Mayer. The entire show was underlined by freestyle mini-jams highlighted only by the occasional one-line verse. It was a showcase not for cheeseball lyrics but for John's impressive guitar-playing prowess—something easily overlooked when lost behind any of the lyrics found in "Daughters," his most recent Grammy-winning success. The enjoyment seen in Mayer's face while playing his aptly named single, "Who Did You Think I Was?" put the two hits from his last album, Heavier Things ("Daughters," "Something Missing") to shame.

There's a new John Mayer in town, and I like him. I didn't know he had it in him. Before, John was the guy who (when you thought about it) wasn't for you—but when he started spitting game at you at a bar, you weren't exactly making up fake boyfriends. The new Mayer has some unexpected yet well-deserved credibility.

The career decision is an exciting one. How often does a Grammy-winning artist drop off what he's known for to "follow his heart?" Even before the show, I was quite skeptical about this decision. Was I really going to this show to hear a bunch of five-minute long guitar solos? A friend of mine and I actually joked about getting trashed and yelling at John to play "Your Body Is A Wonderland." I expected him to totally suck, but I quickly found that I liked his new stuff better than the few songs with which I was familiar. Normally any jam session will put me in ADD mode, but leave it to John Mayer to make it catchy and popular. That's one thing that definitely hasn't changed as this new leaf has turned over.

So will John's old audience accept this new stuff? Will the freshman girls still fawn over him? Will guys still learn to play Mayer songs on the guitar in the hopes of wooing those freshman girls? Will he still captivate our mothers? For now, we'll have to wait and see: The live John Mayer Trio record comes out November 22. But if one's success is at all correlated to the number of guitars played during a single show, we might be in for another couple of platinum albums from our old friend John. Welcome, Johnny.