Photo courtesy of mykecave on Flickr
In my last post about the Mile High Music Festival, I briefly covered John Mayer’s performance. Mayer is an amazing guitar player, and the energy displayed at the show poured into the crowd to greatly an awesome, lively show. At the same time, I think fans who bought John Mayer tickets didn’t get to see what they paid for.
When John Mayer came on the mainstream scene at the turn of the century, his sound was a more melodic, pop-based sound – not N’Sync pop, but pop in the sense that the songs were straightforward and catchy. With hits like “No Such Thing”, “Your Body Is a Wonderland”, “Why Georgia” and “Daughters”, Mayer established that sound. Then he decided to change it, moving from the pop-based going back to a more blues-based. It seemed to happen when the John Mayer Trio got together (Steve Jordan’s an amazing drummer by the way), when the transformation began. It spilled out of the Trio and into his next solo album, Continuum. When you compare the John Mayer you hear today from his 2001′s Room for Squares, it’s a pretty drastic change.
I’m not saying that artists can’t change their sound – it happens all the time. There’s also a difference between an artist experimenting (U2′s "Pop" and DMB’s "Everyday") and returning back to your original sound, or truly evolving your music into a different genre. Mayer may be experimenting, but I would predict that his sound has evolved and changed and won’t be going back any time soon.
When some artists change their sounds, they either start a new project or join up with a band. However, when your sound changes pretty drastically and you’re maintaining the same stage identity, what do you owe those fans that came to hear the music that made you popular?
At Sunday’s show, Mayer didn’t play "Your Body Is A Wonderland", or "Daughters" and his other (arguably) biggest hits, "No Such Thing" and "Why Georgia" were condensed into a medley. It would be one thing if this was a band like the Rolling Stones that have 70 hits – but if I’m not mistaken – Mayer’s only had 3 studio albums out. In addition, he played 3 cover songs on Sunday as well. It’s cool to see big acts play a cover, but when you’re playing more than one at the sacrifice of one of your biggest singles, then you probably have a priority problem.
I’m not saying Mayer shouldn’t keep on playing jammy-blues, but if he doesn’t want to play those early hits then he should go out with a different stage name. At least when you show up to hear the John Mayer Trio, you know it’s not going to be John Mayer (just like when you go see Gwen Stefani, it’s much different than No Doubt).
I feel when an artist is still relatively early in his career (compared to bands like the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi or U2), then you do have an obligation to play the major singles, regardless of how different they sound. If you’re not happy with the old song’s sound, change something in that song to better fit your new style – but you owe it to play the music that gravitated fans towards you, especially if you’re using that same musical persona to bring those fans in.
I’d be anxious to hear what other fans & musicians think.