John Mayer returned to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on opening day of the two-weekend-long celebration of eclectic music, local food and crafts. His versatile but mostly blues and guitar-driven headlining set was marked with a gratefulness to be back on the stage: Mayer was forced to cancel his entire tour – including a stop at Jazz Fest – following the release of Born and Raised last year due to a throat condition. “Sorry we missed you last year,” he told the crowd, “Thank you for coming back and checking us out.”
Mayer and his band, which included two additional guitarists, focused yesterday on songs from the 2012 record. “I think Born and Raised is my most significant, most meaningful album,” he told Rolling Stone in January, “and it’s also my least popular. . . . I’m ready to experience whatever the result of the music I make is, whether people like it or not.” He was duly liberated at Jazz Fest. During Born and Raised’s “The Age of Worry,” he addressed the crowd: “So Jazz Fest, I’m aware you might not know this song. I am exercising my instructions that I gave myself in the lyrics and I’m not worried about it. Let’s take a moment to not worry about a damn thing.”
The show was laced with New Orleans-appropriate touches, including a cover of “I Got My Mojo Working,” popularized by Muddy Waters in 1957, where he sang “I’m going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand.” He altered the lyrics during “Who Says,” from 2009’s Battle Studies, to “It’s been a long night in New York City/It’s been a long night in New Orleans too.”
Highlights of the set were in its other two covers: Mayer did a nimble and churning rendition of Blind Faith’s 1969 “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and devised a spirited version of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” in the middle of the set. The Dead cover, his extended and solid guitar solos and a notable effort to give everyone in his band their time in the spotlight may characterize what’s to come for Mayer’s upcoming summer tour. He told Rolling Stone earlier this year, “I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead nonstop. . . . They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive kind of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness.” After closing song “Vultures,” he went right into a rousing reprise of “Goin’ Down the Road,” bringing the performance full circle.
Before the closing track, he gave the crowd thanks for bearing witness to the “version 2.0” of himself, saying “It’s going to be getting incredibly groovy and funky over the next couple of years.” Testing the limits of his newfound sense of exemption, he said that the sound will be a “sonic molly fest.” Sensing his mistake with the statement – which could easily be construed as a glorification of the illicit drug MDMA – and in his single moment of desperation all afternoon, he corrected himself that the “fest” was meant “just sonically, just sonically.”
Jazz Fest continues today and tomorrow with sets from Billy Joel, Allen Toussaint, Dave Matthews Band, B.B. King and hundreds of others. Next Thursday through Sunday, Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith, Maroon 5, Frank Ocean, Phoenix and the Black Keys will headline.