The triple-digit temperatures may be gone for now, but John Mayer’s 2019 summer tour is just starting to sizzle! The seven-time Grammy-winner and current Dead & Company guitarist brought the heat back to New York City on Thursday night for the first of two shows at Madison Square Garden. Along with his first-rate band of veteran musicians, Mayer performed a dynamic and heartfelt show that demonstrated his musical evolution.

A smattering of tie-dye colored the crowd as throngs of fans streamed into the midtown Manhattan arena. Still relatively few but growing remarkably in number with each passing Mayer tour, Deadheads exchanged high fives and “hey nows” as they meandered to their seats. It was wonderful to see the friendly interactions between Deadheads and longtime Mayer fans; Mayer himself would preach this togetherness several times throughout the show.

Mayer immediately put his guitar chops on display during the distorted intro to staple opener “Belief,” which was followed by “Love On the Weekend” as he and the band dialed in their mix. A quick switch to his Martin OMJM acoustic, and “Who Says” lifted the crowd before a thoughtful acknowledgment of the folks seated behind the stage brought him into “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You).” Clearly influenced by his time with Dead & Company, he seems to be getting much more comfortable with drawing out songs like “I Don’t Trust Myself,” extending the outro and giving himself space to really open up the tone of his signature Paul Reed Smith Silver Sky guitar.

“In the Blood” came next, an intensely personal song for Mayer that grew even more stirring in the live setting. Crowd favorite “Waiting On the World to Change” followed, including a quick tease of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” during the funky bridge. Mayer slowed things down with a melancholy “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” before transitioning into “Changing,” which featured an extended, emotive guitar solo outro.

As the first set drew to a close, Mayer took full advantage of the two distinct fanbases present. First, Battle Studies heater “Edge of Desire” had longtime fans singing along as the guitar melody rolled over the crowd in waves through heavy delay effects. Then, suddenly Mayer threw on the PRS Super Eagle normally reserved for Dead & Company shows, and the grinding, unmistakable guitar riff marked his debut performance of “Deal” during one of his headlining shows. Deadheads went wild with surprise as Mayer relished the night’s token Grateful Dead tune, signaling vigorously to his backup singers to keep the refrain going through the outro jam. He ended this first set with a raucous guitar solo, easily one of the best of the night. If Mayer keeps up this trajectory during his own shows, pretty soon venues are going to have to start clearing some floor space.

John Mayer – “Deal” (Jerry Garcia cover) – 7/25/2019

[Video: M R]

After a relatively short break, Mayer opened the second set softly with a trio of acoustic songs: “Emoji of a Wave,” familiar Tom Petty cover “Free Fallin’,” and “In Your Atmosphere.” Abruptly, however, the dance-y intro to The Search For Everything staple “Helpless” picked the energy right back up, and Mayer took this opportunity to really let his signature guitar shine. A quick note on the Silver Sky: when Paul Reed Smith released it, this author (and guitarist) wasn’t too fond of it at all, but it seems Mayer has finally achieved a tone that he’d been chasing with Fender Stratocasters for literal decades. The result, most of the time, is spectacular. The precision, grit, and endless sustain he gets out of the Silver Sky is unreal, and its sound is uniquely his.

Next up, easygoing Born and Raised favorite “Something Like Oliva” preceded the syncopated funk of “Still Feel Like Your Man,” which featured a short breakdown from percussionist Aaron Draper. Three-part song “If I Ever Get Around To Living” was capped with a beautiful, virtuosic guitar solo from Isaiah Sharkey, a 29 year-old Chicago native with strong jazz and gospel roots and the band’s newest guitarist. He makes a fantastic addition, and Mayer was clearly energized to be playing with him.

Longtime Mayer bandmember David Ryan Harris then gave a mellifluous vocal treatment to a snippet of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” which soon transitioned into the Continuum classic “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” The Filthiest Guitar Solo of the Night award went to the outro of “Slow Dancing,” which heard Mayer take full advantage of his Silver Sky’s range of tone. A few minutes of earnest onstage chatter later, a tease of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” led into a powerfully delivered “Age of Worry.”

Mayer took the audience waaaay back to his debut album Room For Squares with “Why Georgia” before ending his second set with “Dear Marie.” He returned to the stage with his trusty old Stratocaster in hand to perform traditional encore “Gravity,” featuring backup singers Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts during the interpolation of Otis Redding’s “(I’ve Got) Dreams to Remember.” He then turned the arena into an instant dance party with “New Light,even blasting the audience with confetti! All said, Mayer delivered an energetic performance with both polish and poise in this first of two nights at “The Garden.”

The way Mayer has structured his shows on this particular tour represents a notable departure from the last few. Throwing away the “chapters” (which would see him rotating between full band, solo acoustic, and blues trio formats over the course of a show) of his last several tours, Mayer seems to have taken a nod from the Grateful Dead. His song choices and setlist design on this tour seem more deliberate than in the past, drawing on more complicated juxtapositions of thematic and instrumental tones. Despite the demand of near-constant guitar switching (much respect to his roadies and guitar techs for keeping the operation running smoothly), Mayer seems to really enjoy layering his sets in this way. With his second show here in New York City on the way tonight, it will be interesting to see how he shakes things up.

Mayer returns to MSG to close his two-night stand at the New York venue on Friday. Head to Mayer’s website for tickets and tour info for his upcoming summer performances, and scroll down to check out a gallery from Thursday’s concert, courtesy of photographer Matthew Rae.

Setlist: John Mayer | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 7/25/2019

Set One: Belief, Love On The Weekend, Who Says, I Don’t Trust Myself, In The Blood, Waiting On The World To Change, Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey, Changing, Edge of Desire > Deal (Jerry Garcia cover)

Set Two: Emoji of a Wave, In Your Atmosphere, Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty cover), Helpless, Something Like Olivia, Still Feel Like Your Man, If I Ever Get Around To Living, The Beautiful Ones (Prince cover) > Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, Age Of Worry, Why Georgia, Dear Marie

Encore: Gravity, New Light