Saturday, May 31, 2008

Watching John Mayer perform at a conference

A few weeks ago I was at a conference in Orlando. One highlight for me was getting a chance to watch John Mayer perform an acoustic set at the conference with two other guitarists. Ever since I was in Arizona and I'd go to small coffee shops to watch my friends Rick and Steve play intimate acoustic sets, I've liked the sound of just a couple of acoustic guitars on stage. One of the best concerts I've been to was watching Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in Oakland a few years ago, packing in the coliseum.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the hour-long acoustic set by the Mayer trio, I got to watch it from about fifteen feet away. There were over five thousand people at the conference, but not nearly that many turned out for the concert. And the performance took place in a relatively large conference hall with plenty of food and drink to occupy the guests -- many of whom expressed little more than casual curiosity for the live music. So although I was pretty close to the stage, I felt at times like I was watching a local band in a bar where the chatter from the crowd nearly drowns out the music. I've certainly played in that sort of environment before; it was encouraging to see that even guys like Mayer have to play through the chatter every now and then.

The Mayer trio played a mix of his radio hits, a couple of covers, and some bluesy tunes that I hadn't heard before. Tempo-wise the songs were fairly similar -- all pretty upbeat and nothing too slow, probably a good combination for this audience. I also noticed that his lyrics seemed to be a bit more on the wordy side in contrast to someone like Jack Johnson, yet he still makes it work. Interestingly enough, despite Mayer's numerous radio hits the song that drew out the most camera phones and snap shots and cheers may have been the trio's cover of Tom Petty's Free Falling. I wonder if covering songs like this allows Mayer to expand his fan base to new demographics?

I also wonder if popular covers are a testament to the power of well-written songs? While it may take great performers to break hit songs, I think the fact that some songs can grow more and more popular with repeated covers highlights the fundamental importance of composition.

John Mayer