ON THE BRICKS
(featuring John Mayer, India.Arie and The Calling)
May 24, 2002
Centennial Olympic Park-Atlanta, GA
"This is the first time I've ever had the pleasure of playing under a moon that full," beamed India.Arie from the stage across the massive audience set out before her. The night couldn't have been more perfect. The full moon hung over a clear Atlanta skyline and the view from Centennial Olympic Park couldn't have been more tranquil. To kick off the season, India started her performance with a sound check of the appropriate Gershwin brothers standard "Summertime." I was impressed at the way such a painfully corporate event could be turned into a simple, pure evening by the right artist. The Vanilla Coke/Star 94 On The Bricks free concert series had begun earlier in the evening with sets from Chrystina Lloree and slick modern rockers The Calling. Parking and negotiating the crowd caused me to miss all but a few minutes of the second act. That's okay; I can't imagine a better start than India's. She and her acoustic guitar began alone and the band joined her later. India's voice was warm and welcoming as she sang "Master Plan." The religious and spiritual themes ran throughout her whole show. African percussion, reggae rhythms, gospel, soul and the honesty of folk were all in equal evidence. During her version of the Grover Washington, Jr. hit "Just The Two Of Us," people swayed in the moonlight, singing along and enjoying a free evening of great music. Obviously, her hit "Video" got the crowd the most excited. India.Arie's set was as beautiful as the summer evening that enveloped us all.
After she left the stage, I attempted to venture around the site. It was then that the claustrophobia claimed me. There were just too many people to comprehend. It was both inspiring and frightening. It was moving to see all races, creeds and social circles interacting and enjoying music together. It was scary to see so many people squeezed in, trying to get closer, lining up at the portable toilets and generally trying not to crush each other. It was a full contact sport to get around in that place. Eventually, I discovered that the quickest way to get around was to go out of an exit and come back into another entrance. This revelation saved the evening for me.
Tonight's headliner was playing at the 40 Watt club just three months ago. After filming his first video at The Georgia Theater and appearing on several late night shows, John Mayer has become something of a phenomenon. Somehow, the 24-year old singer/songwriter has managed to find common ground between the TRL 'N Sync audience and the post hippie Dave Matthews contingent. Both camps came out in force. The older crowd seemed a little resentful of the obvious newbies around the stage holding up signs for John with slogans like "Today is my 18th birthday. Be my present." The teens were oblivious. They didn't care what anyone thought as long as they got a glimpse of their new idol. For his part, Mayer took it all in stride and did what he's always done. His pure pop songwriting is well crafted and exact. For my personal tastes, John's record is a bit too soft, but after seeing him in person, I can't argue with his comment, "It takes nuts to rock this sensitively." Opening with "Why Georgia" and "My Stupid Mouth" to a huge sing-a-long, he and his airtight band sounded exactly like the CD, but there was something extra there that lent more immediacy than the studio tracks. The singer appeared a bit nervous about the size of the biggest crowd he'd ever encountered. In honor of this, he brought out a brand new song that attempts to deal with his life of late. It was called "This Will All Make Perfect Sense One Day." The song didn't particularly stand out, but this definitely was the right place to introduce it. Without any over the top antics and minimal lighting effects, the show relied completely on John Mayer's charisma and wit. At one point he stopped the show to say, "This is a public service announcement. Hey tall guy, move the Hell out of the way of the short person. Thank you very much." The girls went wild. During the saccharine laced "Your Body Is A Wonderland," every female in the place awaited the candy lips and your bubble gum tongue." The lyrics to that one always crack me up. Not even Prince could pull off something that silly. It's one of Mayer's worst tunes from a musical standpoint, but it's bound to be a huge hit if ever released as a single just because of the soft-core sensuality that drips from it. I just hope that one doesn't back fire on him and relegate a real contender to a punch line. He kicked off Back To You with the statement, "I wrote this in my underwear, now I'm picturing you in yours." The squeals were deafening and kind of funny. He manipulated the audience with the ease and skill of someone who has been in front of huge crowds for years. Mayer's secret weapon, though, is not his much talked about boyish looks, but his unbelievable musicianship. Seriously, the guy may look like a teen pop star, but when he slices through Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary," you realize what a true talent he is. During this one and "Neon," there were flashes of Stevie Ray Vaughn that were more legitimate than all of the young blues guitar slingers on the scene that are known just for that. The band would also occasionally slide into jazz mode where Mayer could evoke the smooth, angular sounds of George Benson's best with his guitar and scat vocals. The shows pacing wasn't ideal, but that's a small criticism. After top loading the show with familiar cuts, the musical exploration sometimes was a bit long winded and the attention of the crowd wandered a bit during the blues/jazz bits. Of course, that was all forgotten instantly with the opening strains of "No Such Thing." The hit was brought out near the end like a future classic slice of pop ephemera. Mayer's show closed with "83" which included a crowd pleasing medley that worked in "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "Let's Hear It For The Boy." After this, a DJ from Star 94 came out to announce that 96,000 people had turned up for this show. This was the biggest crowd in the history of On The Bricks. Not only that, there were more people tonight than at the '96 Olympics that the park was built to celebrate! I'm afraid, we won't be seeing John Mayer at the 40 Watt Club anymore. He has successfully made the leap from solo acoustic shows to the big leagues in a matter of months. While I'm not a huge fan of what he's recorded to date, I know a great artist in the making when I see one. John Mayer's going to be around a while. He returned to the stage alone with his guitar and ended the night with "Comfortable" by the light of the moon and the mini-flames that dotted the crowd. John Mayer was exactly that...comfortable. (Chris McKay/concertshots.com)
For lots more of John Mayer, be sure to visit the archive!
John Mayer Set
List 5-24-02 :
1. Anywhere But Here/Why
2. My Stupid Mouth
3. City Love
4. Back To You
5. This Will All Make Perfect Sense Someday
6. Your Body Is A Wonderland
7. Wind Cries Mary
8. 3 X 5
10. No Such Thing
11. 83/Eighties Medley