John Mayer – Where The Light Is: Live In Los Angeles

January 01, 1970

(Columbia)

www.sonybmg.com

 BY THE EDITORS, STAFF, INTERN, & CUSTODIAN

There’s something deeply troubling about John Mayer,
something I can’t quite put my finger on. Something about this curly-haired,
charismatic guitar whiz that triggers my involuntary gag reflex and an almost
primal sense of… fear? loathing? I dunno; maybe it’s just my well-honed, if
aged and battered, bullshit detector wheezing out a warning that the guy’s a
fraud.

Now, before you get all tabloid-reactionary-syndrome on my
ass, let me state for the record that I’ve remained singularly unimpressed with
the Berklee-schooled Mayer since his major label debut, Room For Squares, which was preceded by an indie release I haven’t
heard. That was way back in 2001, long before he was making the Star, OK! and People mag scene
on a regular basis in his role as arm candy for Jessica Simpson, Jennifer
Aniston, etc. He always struck me as a shameless Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe,
and a not very convincing one either, letting rip ersatz blues licks siphoned
off a collection of boxed sets (you can always tell who learned the blues from
CDs in the ‘90s as opposed to LPs and firsthand club experiences) while
warbling in a kind of mushmouthed approximation of “soul” that he picked up
from listening to Dave Matthews records. That he somehow earned the bear-hug of
the jamband community during the early years of his ascent is utterly
mystifying; put him in a cutting contest with, say, Derek Trucks or Warren Haynes
and you’d have to call in the mobile medics to clean up after the carnage.

All that aside, just to return to the tabloid notion for a
sec, I understand why some of my
fellow heterosexual males don’t dig Mayer for extramusical reasons.
Hunch-shouldered and rat-faced, he’s only handsome when lined up next to some
of his bandmates (have you seen Pino
Palladino lately? he looks like Bela Lugosi!), so the fact that he’s nailing
all these A-list starlets and pneumatically-enhanced entertainers has gotta
stick in the craw of a lot of guys. I posed the Mayer Envy Question to Mistress
Carlita the other day following my weekly dungeon session, and she suggested
that it might just be a simple “package matter” — that he’s getting his cock
sucked by Jessica ‘n’ Jennifer ‘n’ the like because there’s puh-lenty of that
ol’ oscar mayer weiner to go around. “Or,” the Mistress snickered, “maybe he’s
extremely adept at playing some hot licks
on a lady’s Flying V…”

Whew. That’s some mental image. I don’t wanna go there.

The record at hand: Where
The Light Is
is a 2-CD recorded last December at L.A.’s Nokia Theater (it was also filmed by
veteran lensman Danny Clinch). Disc 1 features a five-song acoustic set from
Mayer plus an eight-song set by the John Mayer Trio (w/Palladino on bass and
Steve Jordan on drums); Disc 2 has the full Mayer Band, which includes two
extra guitarists, a keyboard/lap steel player and a pair of horn men), at the
time touring behind Mayer’s last album, 2006’s Grammy-winning Continuum. As live albums go, Where The Light Is makes all the right
moves, notably a crisp sound that puts the listener right there in the front
row, except when there’s applause, which gets digitally dialed back so’s not to
distract folks getting into the Mayer groove via their iPods or home theater
set-ups. Hey, it’s a damn live album, the latest of several Mayer live platters
intended to give you the real-deal Mayer experience, and it’s on a major label;
you didn’t think they would do a Dick’s
Picks
-styled warts-and-all release, did you? Whether or not any
post-production sweetened things up in the mix, we’ll never know, of course.

So — what can be said of the Mayer record that I didn’t
already say in the second half of the second paragraph above? Should I just
wait until the trained chimps at USA
Today
file their (inevitably glowing) Mayer reviews and provide the links?

Not on your life. We can dispense with the acoustic set
pretty handily. Two words: “Free
Fallin’”.
That’s right. Of all the Tom Petty songs Mayer could have chosen
to cover, and Petty has plenty of earnestly likable numbers in his back catalog
that would meet the Mayer “soul” requirements, he has to do the absolute worst
one available (yes, it was co-written by Jeff “I can ruin anyone’s record”
Lynne). In addition to his Dave Matthews fixation, Mayer has a couple of
annoying vocal shticks, one a kind of midrange honk that sounds like the left
side of a PA system blowing and the other a falsetto that’s so
nails-on-blackboard you wanna dig up Carl Wilson’s rotting corpse and have him
sing voiceovers next time Mayer steps to the mic. Mayer employs both of these
strategies frequently, and in a stripped-down setting they’re more annoying
than usual. And though he strums along amiably, occasionally veering off into
Michael Hedges pluck-and-thump territory, he’s just not an interesting acoustic
guitarist at all.

The Mayer Trio set is marginally better, mainly because,
well… because any Stevie Ray riff or lick is always better than no Stevie Ray
riff or lick, right? And Mayer’s got ‘em a-plenty, starting with a Double
Trouble-ized version “Everyday I Have The Blues” (we know you do, John), right
down to Mayer’s Stevie Ray-does-Jimi wah-wah flourishes.

Speaking of whom: why cover one Jimi tune, when you can
cover two? A most excellent idea! “Wait Until Tomorrow”… um… hey, Steve Jordan
sounds JUST LIKE NOEL REDDING
on harmony vocals! “Bold As Love” (we
know you are, John, we asked the Axis
)… um… hey, I think I’ll go LISTEN TO
HENDRIX’S ORIGINAL! Somewhere in the middle of the set the JM3 gets down with
some virtuoso-style rollin’ ‘n’ tumblin’ (“Who Did You Think I Was” is more
Stevie Ray mojo-working; the slow 12-bar blooze of “Out Of My Mind” elicits all
manner of gooey cheers from the adoring audience), and somewhere in the middle
of the set I also decided it was a good opp to take my dog out in the back yard
to play frisbee catch.

The full band set is where Mayer manages to get his hands
firmly on the reins and steer this mess out of “bland” and into “inoffensive” —
which may be key to his appeal, come to think of it. (Ladies, you’ll have to
advise me on that “package” question…) From the woop-deet-doot-bam chugalug of
“Waiting On The World To Change,” which is a kind of midperiod (read: bland,
inoffensive) Clapton rocker with horns and glockenspiel-sounding keys; to a
slow-dance, soulful ballad called, duh, “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” that
in a living room at this very moment some guy is playing on the stereo while he practices his “moves” for tonight’s
big date; to the smoky pop/blues of “Gravity,” a kind of Jack
Johnson-meets-Mark Knopfler ripoff featuring a ripoff of Otis Redding’s “Dreams
To Remember” grafted onto it as an intro; to, even more egregiously, the most
watered-down, lead-footed, inessential cover of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” ever
laid down on tape (or hard disc) in modern history (oh, it’s so like a train
wreck… somebody buy Mayer a copy of Humble Pie’s Rockin’ The Fillmore, pronto… on second thought, don’t): this is not a good record.

But if it’s not “good,” does that make it “bad”? What does a
one-star rating — for the nifty eco-friendly packaging of the set, natch — mean
anyway? Just because Mayer gets away with this pabulum and laughs all the way
to the bank (and to Jessica’s tits), that doesn’t make him a “bad” person
either, does it?

Perhaps every generation needs its own Jimmy Buffett, a
good-time troubadour who serves up unthreatening, modestly tuneful music under
a veneer of inclusiveness (the girlfriend-factor-exclusiveness thing notwithstanding – although Buffett’s wife was a
hottie too). The perfect soundtrack to margarita-, pina colada- and even wine
cooler-sipping. What would be the Mayer equivalent of a parrothead? A rathead? Time will tell.

Incidentally, they’re going all out on this title, issuing
it on CD and as digital download plus on both standard and Blu-ray DVD
(featuring goodies you can’t get with the audio incarnations). I’d be
interested to learn the stats for the respective DVD formats after a few weeks:
if Blu-ray sales are significantly greater — that is, if people actually want to pay twice as much to get Mayer in high-def
it might give me a sense of whether or not I’ve got my head completely up my
own ass about this guy. No, no — you don’t have to go to the trouble to tell me.
I’m the professional here, after all.

Standout Tracks:  Not a fucking one.

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