It’s by the grace of the Gods that I was able to attend John Mayer’s The Search for Everything Tour twice in the last three weeks. The first time, in Washington D.C., I spent the entire two hours with my mouth agape at the pure, unadulterated talent in front of me. The second time, at Inglewood’s The Forum on April 21st, my mouth definitely did not close, but it is with triumphant pride I announce I was able to keep it together just enough to take some photos and notes for this review!

The show was split up into three musical segments: full band, acoustic, and the John Mayer Trio. Knowing his fans have been waiting four years to see him return to the stage as a solo act (he’s spent the last few years touring with the Grateful Dead), the concert began with “Belief.” An old Continuum favorite, it was a guarantee to hype up the crowd (and the girl in the photo pit trying to keep her cool).

“Belief” segued into “Helpless” — an upbeat number with a punchy guitar line as its driving force, from Mayer’s most recent album, The Search for Everything.  Even though the LP was released just earlier this month, it was no surprise that a large amount of the 17,000 person crowd already knew it and was singing along. The entire arena was on its feet, arms waving in the air, bodies in perpetual dance mode.

Mayer was captivating to watch — always moving along to the rhythm of his guitar, whether playing an older number such as “Who Says,” or one of his most recent singles, “Love on the Weekend.”

“L.A., I love you. You have been breaking my heart repeatedly since 2000… Los Angeles, my home,” Mayer reflected nostalgically before launching into his acoustic segment with “In Your Atmosphere,” a notable tune about heartbreak in L.A. 

Continuing his acoustic set with  “Emoji of a Wave,” “Dreaming With a Broken Heart” and “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967,” Mayer closed out the acoustic portion with his much loved rendition of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” The crowd took over singing the familiar song, going wild on the last chorus, while Mayer flashed a joyous grin as he listened to the arena singing to him.

Mayer was gracious, elated to be back on stage in front of his now hometown of seventeen years. He performed with an unfettered ease that the rest of us seldom experience with anything in life. And, of course, this isn’t a surprise — we all know that Mayer is about as seasoned of an artist as there is —  but it’s one thing to know this in the abstract, and it’s another thing to experience it.

The third set, the John Mayer Trio featuring Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan, is where that experience really kicked in for me (and quite frankly, every face I was capable of seeing in the audience). John Mayer the GRAMMY winning songwriter took a backseat, and John Mayer the hardcore musician came out to play. The musical athleticism between the three giants on stage yielded epic insanity. As soon as the Trio was onstage, jamming to Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” the energy in the crowd shifted to something electric.

And that’s what makes John Mayer, the performer, so remarkable. He’s able to toggle back and forth between his various skills effortlessly, and with each one there is enthusiasm and love for what he’s doing; an ability to create magic out of nothing.

“The great thing about playing with Steve and Pino is I have no idea what the next thing to come out of my guitar is gonna be. No idea!” Mayer said, as he went on yet another guitar riff, ultimately transforming it into the ever-recognizable intro to “Vultures.”

The concert was full of entertaining surprises. A malfunctioning guitar pedal called for a last minute set list change-up. Instead of choosing the song himself, Mayer let the crowd decide using a vote-by-cheer method. “Acoustic? Electric?” he asked. Acoustic drew the bigger cheer: “Acoustic it is. Give me a ‘Queen of California!'” John cheerfully yelled to his band. Just like that, the show went on and the audience kept singing. It was a graceful way to handle the difficulty (and a much needed personal reminder, post-Trio, of Mayer’s status as a human being).

Shortly thereafter, rock guru Ryan Adams was called up to the stage to join Mayer in Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up.” Adams sang lead vocals and played his signature harmonica, while Mayer provided the guitar solos and background vocals.

My favorite part of the night, however, began as soon as I heard the the iconic first three notes of “Gravity.” With melody and lyrics I fell in love with the first time I heard them, I experienced feelings so visceral I can only understand them through comparison to what observers of religion must feel like when they sit through an exceptional sermon.

“Keep me where the light is,” Mayer sang, as twinkling lights appeared on the ceiling of the arena. All the while, mystical stage lights were pointed at Mayer as he was taking an incredibly passionate and drawn out guitar solo, the crowd illuminated by the modern day lighters that are their cellphone flashlights. “This is my church,” I humorously, and legitimately, thought to myself.

Something Mayer had said during his concert in Washington D.C. that truly struck me was that he is now finally able to fully experience his life, his performances and his successes, after spending so many years working so excruciatingly hard to build it all. This stayed with me, and I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of it during the entirety of his Los Angeles show. He was living, truly living, in the moments on stage.

Seeing an artist bask in happiness, not weighed down by a pressure to do well so that he/she can be catapulted into the next big thing, is rare. It is a magical thing to witness, and his appreciation of this circumstance — that despite the passage of time, or the development of certain reputations, people keep showing up to fill arenas — was a beautiful thing to see and hear.

“Thank you for giving me the freedom not to be judged by any other music, just my own music. That’s not a freedom that many people have… You’ve given me my own world in this world,” he said.

“My name is John Mayer. Thank you for giving me the rest of my life to do this. Thank you.”

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