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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Mayer comes to Madison

Tonight, a notorious bachelor has a Valentine's Day date with you. He'll no doubt try to sing sweet nothings into your ear, impress you with his passion and presence, and avoid awkward silences.

Of course, you'll have to pay.

Accomplished singer-songwriter, blues guitarist and allegedly eligible bachelor John Mayer will play the Alliant Energy Center tonight in support of his Grammy-winning album Continuum.


Those hoping Mayer will serenade them tonight with hits from his heartthrob days will likely be disappointed, as Mayer has been focusing on recent material during his extensive North American tour. Concertgoers can expect a heavy dose of album tracks like "Waiting on the World to Change," which won a Grammy for Male Pop Vocal Performance, although he will probably roll out the obligatory "Your Body is a Wonderland" during the encore.

The difference between the two songs highlights the departure Mayer has made from the breezy acoustic-pop song craft of Room for Squares on his last three albums. According to Mayer, the change in music is due more to his growth as an artist than commercial or critical considerations.

"The music stays so close to me that however I change, it's going to change," Mayer said on a recent conference call. The songwriter explained he was 21 when he wrote the tongue-in-cheek ode "Your Body is a Wonderland," which managed to capture the wide-eyed wonder of young love alongside the cavalier attitude of an experienced Lothario. He was 28, however, when he wrote the socially conscious but still sentimental "Waiting on the World to Change."

"There's as much as much of a conscious decision in that (change) as there is for you to go, 'These pants have gotta go' or 'I gotta stop wearing these sneakers,'" Mayer said.

The personable pop star seems to think he can alternately cast himself as a dreamy pop crooner, gutbucket bluesman or Clapton-esque balladeer according to his mood. But nothing has proven him wrong so far. Like Dylan before him, Mayer made his name with acoustic guitar in hand and then traded it for an electric. Except in Mayer's case, nobody booed him off stage outright.

"Over the years, I've seen my fan base … come and go according to the music I'm making," he recently wrote on his blog, in response to a fan's question. "I'm okay with that open-door policy."

The policy left Mayer free to dabble in just about everything on Continuum, from slow guitar jams to quickstep band grooves to piano-driven balladry. The lyrical content also broadened as Mayer stopped relying solely on love-struck confessionals in the vein of "My Stupid Mouth" and tried his hand at open-ended diatribes like "Belief," which takes on the fragmented ideologies of the modern world. The song is by no means a searing condemnation of the war on terror (Mayer said he thinks "most political songs are not very good songs"), but it's definitely a break from his previous work.

"Up until Continuum, it was 100 percent that kind of small-world mentality," Mayer said. "Continuum on a couple of tunes represents the gradual opening up of some other reads on the world. But they're still emotional."

Mayer himself is most passionate about the waltzing slow-burner "Gravity," which he often builds up to a wailing, jammed-out crescendo to end his set.

"No matter where I am in the world, no matter what kind of day I'm having, once I step up to the mic to sing the first word of 'Gravity,' I can't help but to mean it," Mayer described the song as his "first real success with the less-is-more approach."

On the album, the sparse and mellow song seems an unlikely candidate for a rousing closer, and Mayer admitted he had the tune pegged as a B-side after he wrote it. Now, he identifies it as "one of the most striking songs that I've got in my repertoire."

"Sometimes you write pieces of work that are smarter than you are, and you have to grow into them," he said.

But recreating the song live is an entirely different beast, Mayer said.

"I know these songs so well, it's very difficult to get them to feel every night like they are as powerful as on the record," he said.

This is especially dangerous when audience recordings make it to YouTube. "I would hate for the most widely traded song on Continuum to be the worst version that we've ever done," he said.

All his live efforts, however, are ultimately based off of the album he's touring behind.

"There's no show I've ever played that could even come close to my best nights in the studio," he said. "In some ways, I'm tracing the record and trying not to trace too far off the lines when performing."

For this reason, Mayer actually prefers stadium and arena shows for the "quality control" they offer. The huge road crew he has amassed is necessary to "make that stage a consistently cool place to be … for me and the fans alike."

Of course, there's no such guarantee for Mayer's jokes between songs, although he recently began honing his skills with a much-publicized foray into stand-up comedy.

"I think my sense of humor is better than my actual ability to be funny, which annoys the shit out of me," he said. "There's things that the whole theatre laughs at and there's the thing that I laugh at, and they're more often than not different things."

Here's hoping Mayer reconciles the two during his between-songs banter onstage tonight. After all, those awkward silences can ruin a date.

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