The one-man-show is like watching your friend jam at a local bar

John Mayer March 11 2023 Prudential Center Solo Tour
John Mayer [Danny Clinch]

Last night, John Mayer kicked off his first-ever solo tour at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. The GRAMMY® Award-winning singer-songwriter strolled into the stage that had a few guitars, a piano, and not another soul in sight. The solo run is a passion project of sorts for Mayer, who is mounting the tour in the interest of keeping things simple and connecting with his fans on a more intimate level. After the first performance, it’s clear that he’s achieving what he set out to do.

In the dimly lit arena, Mayer started the set with his track “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” The crowd immediately recognized the song from just the first few notes. They erupted, then quickly settled down so they could completely absorb the delicate new version of the seminal song. Mayer was only visible to the audience through thin horizontal strips of light, as if a bit of sunlight was peaking thought a set of blinds on a window.

The mood was set.

When the song was over, John dropped his head and pounded his hands on his knees. It was seemingly a combination of excitement and relief. The audience was into it, and Mayer was thankful.

Before playing his breakout hit “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” Mayer took a moment to examine his own songwriting mortality. “Is this song stupid? I don’t know,” he quipped. “I have a thing for things I can’t tell are stupid. I have a think for ‘stupid sincere.’ So, as I sing this song, I’m going to really think about this being sincere. I know there are a couple lyrics that are hard to get around, but we’re gonna try. I’m gonna play it like it’s not a joke.”

And the crowd just laughed along with him.

Midway through the set, Mayer sat down behind a grand piano to change things up a bit. He performed “New Light,” “You’re Gonna Life Forever in Me,” and “Changing.” Towards the end of “Changing,” Mayer looped the piano and picked up one of his signature PRS electric guitars. He showed his full range as a guitarist, shredding through a stellar outro that brought the crowd to its feet.

After he got up from the piano and came back to center stage, Mayer quipped, “You didn’t think I was just gonna sit in a chair for two hours, did ya?” The crowd cheered once again for the extra-cool performance they had just witnessed. Mayer even surprised himself a bit. “I’m trying to find softer words for ‘that’s some of the craziest I’ve ever done in my life.'”

Towards the end of the set, Mayer treated the crowd to a brand new song that he’d never performed before. Titled “Driftin’,” the track was laced with a sense of longing over lost time. One can’t help but notice the autobiographical nature of the song, perhaps illustrating Mayer’s life drifting around on tour for over two decades.

He lamented in the second verse, “Called my shrink the other day / Forgot what I was gonna say / So, I lied and said I lost my way / ‘Cause I couldn’t let him down / Put my leather jacket on, to play the part of ‘Bad Boy John’ / A broken-hearted vagabond wandering into town, ’cause I’m driftin’.”

The chorus alludes to the notion that he may be searching for someone as well, stating, “Maybe some day, I’ll drift into you.” The song is an anthem for lost souls. With some time, it could easily become a crown jewel in his catalog. Hopefully, when he eventually records it, he does so just like this – with nothing but an acoustic guitar.

Other highlights included “Why Georgia,” his renowned cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and the fan favorite “Who Says.”

He also played “Stop This Train,” a song about trying to slow time down as his parents are getting older.

“We do this thing where we worry about our parents leaving all the time,” Mayer lamented. Every year, is this the year? I have spent many years mourning people who are still here. People just worry. You worry about tour parents, and I’ve done a lot of worrying.”

John went on to explain how when his dad turned 70, he had a bit of a breakdown because he thought that was such an old age for a person. He thought the end was imminent. And then, he gave some roundabout advice to the crowd: “My dad is 95 years old.”

John Mayer struck all the right cords on Saturday night. The show was simple, honest, and fun. There were times when it felt more like watching your friend play down the street at a local bar than watching one of the greatest musicians of his generation play in a packed arena. The amount of time he took to interact with the crowd in-between songs was quite remarkable. It was certainly a John Mayer that no one has really seen before.

Early in the set, Mayer said he spoke with his good friend Andy Cohen shortly after the tour was announced. He said, “Andy, I’m nervous. I don’t know if it’s going to work. I don’t know if they’re gonna like it.” Andy said, “John, you’ve already announced that it’s just you. They’ve come to see just you. They know what the show is gonna be. Relax, and enjoy it.” Mayer certainly seemed to be taking Cohen’s advice, soaking up every second.

At one point, Mayer summed up the evening perfectly. “I don’t have to win anyone over anymore,” he said with a sigh of relief. “I just want to be here and sing along with you.”

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