If nothing else, give John Mayer credit for trying to put chops back into pop.
Mayer had barely walked onstage Saturday night at American Airlines Center when he launched into a long electric guitar solo, the first of 20 or so solos he'd uncork during the two-hour concert. The message was clear: Mayer is a serious musician, not just some serial celebrity dater who writes songs about his exes and talks explicitly about his sex life in interviews (although, of course, he does that, too).
Late in the show, the affable Mayer thanked longtime fans who've "stuck it out" and stayed focused on his music, not his personal exploits. That's all well and good, but it's too bad Mayer's work onstage wasn't nearly as provocative as his offstage pursuits.
As a vocalist, Mayer got mixed results whenever he tried to push his bland, whispery tenor outside its comfort zone. The jazzy scat flourish at the end of "Daughters" was a nice touch; the high, strained pseudo-soul singing in "Vultures" was not.
Mayer's guitar soloing was hit and miss. He did a fine job of parroting other guitarists: You could hear snippets of Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Jerry Garcia, and of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan, his all-too-obvious main influence.
But Mayer rarely sounded like himself. Ninety-five minutes into the show, he finally found his teeth and bit hard into his guitar during "Slow Dancing In a Burning Room." Yet for most of the show, his playing was solid but anonymous — especially compared to tastier solos by his backing guitarist Isaiah Sharkey.
Flanked by his top-notch 7-piece band, Mayer started the show with songs from his seventh and latest CD, The Search for Everything. The breezy but forgettable single "Love on the Weekend" sounded even paler when Mayer stacked it next to one of his best songs, 2006's "Waiting on the World to Change."
After 30 minutes, he sent the band backstage and played a solo acoustic segment highlighted by his lovely version of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." Instead of playing it the obvious way, as an arena-rock singalong, he pared it back into a jazz-folk ballad.
Next up was a trio segment featuring super-drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino, best known for replacing the late John Entwistle in the Who. Mayer barely held his own as the all-star rhythm duo stormed through Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" and a punk-rock version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads."
He brought the full band back out to end the show, but he spent much of his energy telling a weird recurring joke about making up catchy random choruses to annoy his girlfriends: "Look at these tiny seashells!" he sang over and over, starting to annoy his fans as well. Earlier, he told a mildly amusing but mostly just odd story about writing "Daughters" while he was naked in the shower.