John Mayer ended his Thursday night (Feb. 25) show at New York's Madison Square Garden in the same way he probably starts most conversations these days: with an apology.
"I never in my entire life intended to come off as an asshole," Mayer said, referring to his controversial and racially charged interview with Playboy. "Thank you for believing that I'm not an asshole, and I know there are a lot of assholes who would say that, so I understand."
Aside from those brief but sincere words, though, Mayer left his apology train back in Nashville. The singer/songwriter kept his focus on the music and proved that, despite his recent media misadventures, he's still an exceptionally talented live performer.
After an opening set by Michael Franti and Spearhead, Mayer kicked off his own with his latest single, "Heartbreak Warfare," bringing a level of emotion to his guitar work that belies the recorded version of the song. "No Such Thing" -- the breakout song from his 1999 album "Inside Wants Out" -- held sentimental value for the singer, as he prefaced it by saying, "This is the first single I ever had in my life." In between songs, Mayer took the opportunity to crack a few jokes and connect with the audience, but but mostly kept it clean.
An incurable axe collector, Mayer swapped guitars before almost every number, barreling through a variety of vintage and custom Fender Stratocasters, a vintage Gibson SG and ES semi-hollowbody, and a Fender Telecaster, among others. He held onto his Martin acoustic the longest, though, for a three-song acoustic set.
"Let me get my groove, hold up," Mayer said, interrupting himself after the first riffs of a slow, crunching blues number. Letting out a contented "Mmmm," Mayer then broke into the clear standout performance of the night: a cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine that brought him to his knees for a final blazing solo, and brought a chorus of cheers from the crowd.
Nodding to his drummer Steve Jordan, Mayer remarked, "If you weren't in the groove yet, you'll be in the groove now." Jordan, who had been a background figure as of yet, obliged with a hard-hitting drum solo that eventually led to "Waiting On The World To Change." His other band members also had their moments in the spotlight: an Eric Clapton-style cover of "Crossroads" showcased guitarist Robbie McIntosh's slide guitar chops, while "Vultures" featured a solo from guitarist/vocalist David Ryan Harris.
Mayer kept the mood of the night mostly positive, but several poignant song choices kept alluding to the controversy surrounding him. He performed "My Stupid Mouth," an early hit from his 2001 album "Room for Squares," and substituted the word "we" for "I" in the final verse of "Slow Dancing In a Burning Room." "Don't you think [I] oughta know by now," Mayer sang. "Don't you think [I] should have learned somehow."
After his subsequent apology, Mayer bowed his head and thanked the crowd for its support, saying, "My heart is bigger than ever; thank you for filling it up." "Gravity," one of Mayer's most beloved songs from 2006's "Continuum" followed, and the eruption of a crowd singalong made it clear that - at least in the eyes of Mayer's biggest fans -- all is forgiven.
Here is John Mayer's setlist:
"No Such Thing"
"Slow Dancing In A Burning Room"
"My Stupid Mouth"
"Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers Cover)
Interlude/ drum solo by Steve Jordan
"Waiting On The World To Change"
"Bigger Than My Body"
"Half of My Heart"
"Dreams" (Fleetwood Mac cover)
"Gravity" (featuring cover of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys)
"Friends Lovers Or Nothing"