John Mayer is an evolutionist. He came crashing through the gate as an unlikely torch bearer, defied the odds, perfected his in-studio craft, won major awards, blew THE FUCK up, dated the entire A-list, became a TMZ darling, said a bit too much, lost his voice possibly in a twist of karmic retribution, retreated to Montana, expanded his wardrobe, came back strong, joined remaining members of the Grateful Dead, apparently experienced an ego death, and then showed up Saturday night at the Forum to play his 2006 magnum opus, Continuum, from front to back as a surprise. But it’s how he played it that mattered.

Enter the band, John Mayer, and his seemingly endless wellspring of confidence. Mayer’s primary Jedi trick is the ability to play so loosely within the confines of such sturdily-built songs. When the group took the stage, they wasted no time dropping straight in to 5th gear with opener, “Helpless.” By its terminus, Mayer had already created his own pocket, a private world where he set an organic call and response loop between the titular lyrics and dagger riffs from his electric guitar.

Perhaps time spent as part of Dead & Company opened his eyes to the possibilities when playing a two-set show: the perfect set and spike. First, a career-spanning set inclusive of colossal Grammy-winner “Daughters,” a jazzy and percussive “Neon” (performed alone), a Beyoncé cover (“XO”), and more recent deep cut gems, “Edge of Desire” and “In The Blood”; and later, the spike: the presentation of Continuum in the second set.

Each tune of the night was played down to the last drop; a final lick from Mayer, or a cohesive ending that synthesized contributions from all nine humans on stage – a sonic stew bitches brew for your pop-loving heart.

If you overlooked some of the saccharine lyrics of newish single, “Love on the Weekend,” you found a piece that started with a boomy EDM pulse, but evolved in to an organic, driving rock jam. The brooding “Edge of Desire” sexed up a Police riff, slowed momentarily, then climaxed with a towering tension and release solo from JM himself.

The self-effacing “In The Blood” closed the first set with stomps and claps, striking a nerve with its naked inquisition, “what about this feeling that I’m never good enough? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?”

Anyone perusing the merch stands before the show might have seen a Continuum branded t-shirt, the Forum show date on the sleeve, and the track listing on the back. Having last performed the album at Madison Square Garden in July (its only other start-to-finish performance to date), this night was to bookend the summer on the other coast.

Continuum fully-legitimized John Mayer as a multi-dimensional warrior 13 long years ago. When most artists revisit entire albums in the live setting, it’s usually a sign that they lack new material, or are leveraging nostalgia for the quick and dirty cash grab. But for Mayer, this was an opportunity to reimagine 12 songs that best showcase his bone deep musicality.

Right off the bat, the funk-jazz shuffle breakdown in “Waiting on the World to Change” (one of three larger than life songs on the LP), preceded a solo that sounded like an homage to Eric Clapton’s 1980’s hits.

“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” crept along disguised in a sly lurch until JM unleashed newly refined tricks; riffs copped from Jerry Garcia’s palette. More Dead surfaced with double drum crashes in “Belief” that positioned the song to be accentuated by a white hot closing solo.

What can be said about “Gravity”? Clearly the fan favorite of the night (and probably of his career at-large), the audience illuminated the room with their phones as John and band walked the song on a deliberate upward trajectory towards communal pop oblivion delirium. This level of fanfare typically ushers in the dread that comes at the end of a show. So to hear “Gravity” mid-set was simply a treat; much music was left to be played.

The tender “Heart of Life,” was the unlikely death knell for any doubt lingering in the arena. Whereas some of John Mayer’s slower songs can sound like overt efforts to woo, the oft-overlooked “Heart of Life” registers as a sincere meditation.

“Vultures” got the room – and Mayer – moving again. He swaggered around the stage in the intro, relaxed a bit when the song found its 1970’s FM groove, only to ramp up anew with more Dead-inspired energy and tones.

The third song of the album’s worldwide hit trifecta, “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” provided the musical moment of the evening. Included in the supremely patient ten-minute performance were bent harmonic notes, and a mid-song finger-picked solo that would qualify as the best solo at most any live show these days; but it was just the second best solo in “Slow Dancing.” Like a prospector, JM discovered more and more room for the song to grow until he side-stepped away from the microphone and went for the Forum’s collective jugular with the final signature stratospheric solo.

The rest was gravy. Starting with the album’s Hendrix cover (“Bold as Love”), the band eventually found its sixth gear after the slow roast simmer of sleeper track “In Repair.” They ended with Continuum coda, the kiss off tune, “I’m Gonna Find Another You.” Mayer flirted with flaunting but executed with precision to close out the album set, the journey now complete.

It would have been easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the Continuum moment if the songs hadn’t sounded so vibrant, colorful, and alive. But after taking a look back, John Mayer directed his focus forward. There was a statement embedded in the decision to encore with a pair of brand new songs. It was time to evolve again.

Setlist

Set 1:

Helpless
Moving On and Getting Over
Who Says
Love on the Weekend
Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey
Edge of Desire
Changing
XO (Beyoncé)
Daughters
Neon (acoustic)
In the Blood

Set 2: Continuum

Waiting on the World to Change
I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
Belief
Gravity
The Heart of Life
Vultures
Stop This Train
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
Bold as Love (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Dreaming With a Broken Heart
In Repair
I’m Gonna Find Another You

Encore:
Carry Me Away
New Light

Photo credit: Christina De La Torre
Assistance: Jamie Callahan