John Mayer Debuts “Battle Studies” at Intimate New York Gig - Rolling Stone
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John Mayer Debuts “Battle Studies” at Intimate New York Gig

As John Mayer strummed the opening riff of his 2003 hit “Why Georgia” at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, last night, he reassured the crowd of several hundred, “If you were afraid of me ever evolving away from you… if you were afraid that I could never be the guy who still wondered what the hell was going on sometimes like you do… I play this for you as the kid in his mother’s 1991 Plymouth Voyager living in Atlanta, Georgia, trying to figure it all out — and I play it for whoever you were back in 2000.”

With his fourth LP, Battle Studies, hitting stores today, Mayer’s come a long way since the quarter-life crisis he wrote about in “Why Georgia.” Even as his lyrics and banter track his journey to figuring it all out, Mayer’s live persona has settled into a confident blend of his identities: relatable singer-songwriter, nimble-fingered axeman, blues-pop player and stand-up comic. In his first time playing Studies‘ songs at last night’s MySpace Music secret show, Mayer removed the smooth-around-the-edges sound of the recording and let the tracks develop their more gritty (his take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”), funky (album opener “Heartbreak Warfare”) and soulful (relationship anthem “Friends, Lovers or Nothing”) elements.

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Last night’s gig also served as a warm-up for tonight’s concert at New York’s famed Beacon Theatre (which will be broadcast live on Fuse at 9 p.m. ET) — and Mayer was relaxed and refreshed, confessing, “It’s great to be back onstage with a guitar.” His extended playing on blues-pop nugget “Perfectly Lonely” and in a jam with drummer Steve Jordan during a reggae-flavored take on “Waiting on the World to Change” were effortless. And what’s become a beloved climax of his live show — the let-it-all-out jam during “Gravity” — peaked as Mayer used one hand to high-five the audience with the other hand still played his guitar.

Mayer’s reminder to fans about still being the same guy he was when Room for Squares came out in 2001 was best illustrated when he took the stage by himself with an acoustic guitar to play fan favorite “Comfortable” (a song so relatively old, Mayer jokingly acknowledged trouble remembering the chords), sweetly segueing into his cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’ ” before switching to an electric guitar to debut an intense take of Studies‘ yearning “Edge of Desire.”

Two female back-up singers joined Mayer’s six-piece band, helping to flesh out the sounds of Battle Studies — Melanie Taylor and Julie Delgado took over the Taylor Swift part in Mayer’s Fleetwood Mac-tinged “Half of My Heart,” added vocal acrobatics to “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and as the two-and-a-quarter-hour gig neared its end, helped Mayer take the crowd to church.

Mayer put on his best preacher voice before “Friends, Lovers or Nothing” to address the elephant in the room: tabloid speculation over his love life. “You can write whatever the fuck you want in your glossy magazine but I ain’t ever heard a solo in it!” he said to loud applause. “They say I’m a womanizer! I say I haven’t met enough women!” But the moment went as quickly as it comically came, and as the song finished Mayer grabbed fans’ cameras, posing for pictures with the crowd as if to remind them one more time that he is, in fact, still the same kid trying to figure it all out.

Set List:

“Heartbreak Warfare”
“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)”
“Perfectly Lonely”
“Why Georgia”
“Waiting on the World to Change”
“Free Fallin’ “
“Edge of Desire”
“War of My Life”
“Half of My Heart”
“Bigger Than My Body”

“Who Says”
“Friends, Lovers or Nothing”

Related Stories:
John Mayer on the “Vulgar Relationship” Behind New LP Battle Studies
John Mayer: The Essential Album-by-Album Guide
Secrets of the Guitar Heroes: John Mayer

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