KANSAS CITY, Kan. – July 10’s concert at the amphitheater in Bonner Springs was John Mayer’s first in those parts in more than three years. A lot has happened since then.
For starters, Mayer went into a self-imposed exile in Montana for nearly two years, mainly for some self-evaluation and to wash off the residue left from a tumble into the tabloid mudpits. After he emerged, he released his fifth studio album, “Born and Raised,” a collection of wistful folk and country-rock tunes that signified a change in mood and attitude.
The estrangement from the world of music and celebrity gossip appears to have changed him. Wednesday, the guy who took his band through a set list that lasted nearly two hours and 20 minutes seemed as humbled and grateful as he has ever been. And a crowd of more than 10,000 rewarded him for it with gusts of love and appreciation.
Backed by a seven-piece band that included ace guitarist Doug Pettibone (who also played pedal steel) and two vocalists, Mayer opened with “Queen of California,” the lead track on “Born and Raised,” then a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” which had an electric-jug-band vibe and included the first of many instrumental jams.
He has caught the attention of the jam-band world. At least one fan in the place was wearing a Widespread Panic shirt, and up front a guy in a Trey Anastasio T-shirt was openly recording the show (for which he was lauded by Mayer).
The setlist included three songs off his upcoming album, “Paradise Valley,” due to be released in August. The first of those, the poppy “Paper Doll,” is reportedly his retort to ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift for the dart she tossed at him in “Dear John.” He’d play two more new ones, including “Wildfire,” which swayed to a subtle tropical beat.
But he also played his best-known songs, including a funked-up version of “Waiting on the World to Change” and a solo-acoustic version of “Your Body is a Wonderland,” which sent the crowd into a warm frenzy. “Something Like Olivia,” which included a long jam and some vocal scatting from Mayer, also got a loud ovation and a big sing-along response.
Mayer is a skilled guitarist, and he showed off those skills all night, typically during extended instrumentals. His fingerpicking during the jazz-infused “Neon,” from his “Inside Wants Out” album, was dazzling.
He would draw the evening to a close with a beefy version of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally,” in which Pettibone threw down a tasty lead, “Gravity,” before which he graciously thanked the crowd for letting him do what he loves. Before that one, he urged everyone to find peace and grace in these anxious times, to not sweat the small stuff and to forgive themselves for their sins, most of which are trivial anyway. He seems to be taking his own good advice.