By MELISSA RUGGIERI
John Mayer might not have tact, but he does have talent.
The garrulous singer/songwriter/guitarist – a onetime Atlantan – spent nearly two hours Wednesday night reminding people that while his mouth gets him tagged as prime TMZ material, he’s still one of the best musicians of his generation.
It was evident from the moment Mayer strolled onto the Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood stage, tousled hair pushed back with a bandana and already riffing through a bluesy version of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” that this would be a night focused on musicianship.
His ace seven-piece band, including Atlanta native David Ryan Harris and veteran Robbie McIntosh on guitars, fortified Mayer’s quality catalog with layers of funk and blues. But it was Mayer’s own playing that dazzled.
He repeatedly demonstrated his musical dexterity and knowledge, from using The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” as a complementary intro to his own “Perfectly Lonely” to injecting a snippet of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” into his guitar solo for “Waiting on the World to Change.”
Most of the time, it was more enjoyable hearing Mayer’s extensive solos, when he’s truly connected to his guitar and making lost-in-oblivion Silly Putty faces, than listening to his glossy radio hits.
His gut-wrenching tear through Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” would have convinced any naysayer that Mayer has done his homework at the School of Hendrix, Clapton and Van Halen and already deserves to be mentioned among the legends.
Throughout the set, Mayer frequently referenced his Atlanta-area days (he also popped up Tuesday night for a surprise gig at Eddie’s Attic). He noted before a loping rendition of his first hit, “No Such Thing,” that he played it for the first time in his professional life in a venue in Decatur more than a decade ago. And, midway through a solo acoustic run though “Neon,” he stopped to mention that the song was written while he lived in Duluth.
Now 32, Mayer is still a lanky heartthrob, and his well-chronicled love life has hardly diminished the adoration from his female fans, dozens of whom waved signs begging for hugs, kisses and, in one instance, asking, “Will you May-er me?”
And these women looked well into their 20s – not exactly teenyboppers.
While it’s tough not to be swayed by Mayer’s easygoing charm and shrewd humor, it’s even better that he possesses the musical chops to complete the package.
Opening for Mayer was Owl City, the group fronted by Adam Young that soared to radio ubiquity earlier this year with the tinkling synthesizer hit, “Fireflies.”
Considering the wimpy nature of the Young’s material – which he famously crafted in the basement of his parents’ Minnesota home – it was almost shocking to hear Owl City’s music crackle and soar in a live setting.
With the help of five musicians, including, interestingly, a female violinist and cellist, Young alternated between playing keyboard and guitar and frequently scooped up the microphone that filters his voice into a spacey bray.
The understated frontman sings in a sweet voice well-suited to his brand of synthesizer pop, and, while the songs don’t vary much in tone or tempo – the New Order-ish “Cave In” an exception – there is something pleasantly lulling about his sunshiny haze of music box melodies.
The album that birthed “Fireflies,” “Ocean Eyes,” has been certified platinum, which means that at least a million people have found meaning in lyrics such as, “I’ve gone to the dentist 1,000 times so I know the drill” and “I’d rather pick flowers instead of fights,” both from the song “Dental Care.”
Maybe it’s simplistic songwriting, but you can’t argue Young’s intentions to provoke a smile.