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POP MUSIC REVIEW

John Mayer, with blues licks and a promise

The singer-songwriter's passion for the genre abounds in a lively show at the Nokia.

December 10, 2007|Sarah Tomlinson | Special to The Times

What a short but eclectic trip it's been. At age 30, John Mayer may seem too young for a career retrospective. But his three-hour-plus show Saturday at the Nokia Theatre was just that.

The night explored his musical evolution in the six years since his multi-platinum debut, "Room for Squares," with three equally compelling segments: tunes he wrote as an acoustic singer-songwriter, the classic blues of the John Mayer Trio and the sophisticated pop rock of his 2006 album, "Continuum."

Mayer has been celebrated for coming into his own as a songwriter and performer on his third studio release, and he showed off his musical mastery throughout the night. But his first passion clearly remains the blues, as blues licks and attitude abounded throughout all three sets.

Mayer took the stage without fanfare, seating himself on a stool for a short but winsome acoustic set that felt surprisingly intimate given the 7,100-capacity venue. As female fans shouted messages of love, he showed off his supple voice and self-reflective lyrics on a new song, "Stop This Train," and the lovely ballad "In Your Atmosphere," which he said he hadn't played for years. Two guitarists joined him for a guitar-dappled version of his hit "Daughters" before he closed with a gorgeous cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'."

After a 15-minute intermission, Mayer returned with drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino of the John Mayer Trio, all clad in matching suits. From the strutting riff of "Wait Until Tomorrow" to the wailing solo of crowd favorite "Good Love Is on the Way," Mayer paid homage to such blues guitar greats as B.B. King and Eric Clapton with guitar work that was adept but never gratuitous. Amid asides about staying focused on his music and fans, rather than his tabloid appearances, and on the importance of love, he closed with an inflamed version of "Bold as Love."

"Round 3, huh?" Mayer joked before his final set, which found him at his most relaxed and kinetic. Backed by a seven-piece band, he played much of his new album, including the Marvin Gaye-flavored "Waiting on the World to Change."

His fans were most excited by his pop material, singing along to such classics as "No Such Thing" and "Why Georgia." Teasing the audience to YouTube it, he broke into a bit of Def Leppard's "Photograph" before delivering a rowdy version of Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor."

Mayer's three-song encore found him still blues-obsessed, opening both "Belief" and his show closer, "I'm Gonna Find Another You," with blues guitar filigrees. But his influences now take a back seat to his own increasingly singular style, making it just as exciting to anticipate where he will go next as it was to revisit the path by which he's come up.

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