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Concert Review: John Mayer Is a Wonderland at First of Two-Night Stand at the Forum

Matt Donnelly

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“You’re allowed to ironically celebrate your past,” John Mayer told a sold-out crowd of nearly 18,000 on Friday night at the iconic Inglewood, Calif. venue The Forum.

He was introducing what is arguably his breakout hit, the college dorm hookup anthem “Your Body is a Wonderland,” but the declaration could easily have applied to the entirety of his first of two sold out Los Angeles shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with putting your past on sentimental and even-tempoed display. And Mayer has an arsenal of hits but no new music to play (though he’s been teasing a forthcoming drop).

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Almost as if to drive the point home, the show’s aesthetic was largely inspired by his 2018 single “New Light,” the video for which was an ode to ’90s normcore fashion and technology. Graphics of CDs and floppy discs, kaleidoscope patterns and Microsoft Windows ’98-era clip art accompanied his boyish face on video screens broadcasting above the arena — teeming with fans of all stripes, from clusters of dads on a night out out to college girls and guys.

The night felt designed around simplicity and familiarity, and it came instantly as Mayer, a guitar virtuoso in addition to being a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, opened with crowd pleasers like the dreamy “Love on the Weekend,” “Who Says,” “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and “In the Blood.”

Mayer rocked a vintage windbreaker in line with the look of the tour and refused to take it off, working up more sweat with each song. The singer did not opt for an opening act, and instead played two sets with a 20-minute break in between, a format he probably got accustomed to touring with Dead and Company over the last three years. Production also brought the stage lights down completely after every song, giving the set the sort of effect you’d expect at a theater show.

But Mayer doesn’t quite fall into the crooner category, nor troubadour, even though it’s how he’s often described. On the Dead & Co. run, he devoted his vocals to the songs and not to onstage banter. Similarly, Mayer told the audience, “I’m trying to keep talking to a minimum so we can cram as many songs in as possible.”

That proved difficult in second half, as he teed up “Body is a Wonderland” by saying he’d fallen out of love with the song for a few years, that it reminded him of an innocence he’d never get back.

Mayer also spoke at length about the magic of California, which he described as a physical place but also an idea that was first communicated to him at the age of 12 growing up in Connecticut. He couldn’t imagine California without Tom Petty, he said, and led the crowd in a singalong of Petty’s ode to L.A., “Free Fallin’.”

In 2008, Mayer played a show at L.A.’s then Nokia Theater (now the Microsoft) that still resonates thanks to the much-streamed live recording of his song “In Your Atmosphere.” During the performance, he promises never to return to L.A., fearing running into an old flame. He brought that back on Friday, though it did not resonate as much as a less recognizable number, another doomed relationship tale in “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.”

His formidable band — including angel-voiced David Ryan Harris on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass and Tiffany Palmer on background vocals — threw all their weight into it, riffing for nearly five minutes as Mayer poured sweat and clutched his chest while the audience cheered him on.

His windbreaker might be ironic, but his appreciation was sincere.

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