After kicking off his Sob Rock Tour 2022 earlier last week with concerts in Albany and Philly, John Mayer rolled into New York City on Sunday, February 20 for the first of two shows at Madison Square Garden.
In his first performance at The Garden in over two years, Mayer played the role of host for a gathering of friends both old and new. With no shortage of 2019 tour tees in the audience to remind us how long it’s been and how much the world has changed since then, the atmosphere of excitement and sense of gratitude was palpable in this New York City crowd.
Now accounting for opening acts, the 2022 Sob Rock tour does away with the two-set format of tours past, instead taking each audience through a single set highlighted by selections from Mayer’s latest album.
After an energetic MSG debut by singer-songwriter Alexander 23, which featured a spirited cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Mayer took the stage just before 9 p.m. With help from a few significant evolutions to his touring band—including the additions of veteran keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (Toto), drummer Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Average White Band), and percussionist Lenny Castro (Toto), Mayer breathed life into Sob Rock songs that most of the audience hadn’t yet heard in concert and revitalized some old favorites with new twists.
In keeping with the first two concerts of the tour, Mayer opened the show with Sob Rock‘s lead single, “Last Train Home” as the album’s distinctive cover text dropped down from the rafters on a neon sign. “Shot in the Dark” followed, distinguished from its studio recording by the addition of a rollicking, guitar-driven outro. Then, haunting guitar flourishes over a dissonant organ signaled the start of “Belief”, the night’s first cut from 2006’s Continuum. Mayer went straight for the wah pedal in a blistering solo that drove the song home.
Next, “Something Like Olivia” marked the night’s only visit to Mayer’s beloved 2012 album, Born & Raised, before “I Guess I Just Feel Like” brought us back to his more contemporary sound. While in the studio and on tour in 2019 he played this last tune with an Epiphone Casino, Mayer handed this guitar off to Isiaiah Sharkey this time around. Instead, he opted to retain his signature lead tone through the now-familiar prototype matte-black Silver Sky, which remained in his hands for the majority of the show. Exemplifying some well-designed evolution since the song’s release in 2019, Mayer has added a new refrain after the composed lyrics to help the song ramp up to its grandiose climax.
John Mayer – “I Guess I Just Feel Like” – 2/20/22
Audience singalong favorite “Who Says” brought a warm and welcome mellow to the arena before Mayer delivered another dose of guitar theatrics in the form of a crisp “Rosie”, the show’s first selection from his 2017 album, The Search for Everything, and recipient of the “Filthiest Guitar Solo of the Night” award (back by popular demand!). Competition for the award was certainly tight, but this tune definitely brought the dancing deadheads out of the woodwork. Mayer’s funky, inventive guitar phrasing as he chased unique melodies and pushed the boundaries of the arrangement during the outro sealed the deal. In short order, the relationship-mourning “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does” completed the acoustic-electric-acoustic song sandwich.
Another highlight came with “Helpless”, which featured a virtuosic keytar solo from Phillinganes in his most prominent showcase of the night. After a self-deprecating disclaimer, Mayer launched into “Your Body Is a Wonderland”, the set’s only inclusion of a song from his 2001 debut album, Room For Squares. For all the growing Mayer has done as a lyricist, he’s demonstrated a remarkable consistency and minimalist savvy in his arrangements: played by this full touring band, the funky bridge of “Wonderland” (“Damn baby…you frustrate me…”) sounds like it could have come straight from The Search For Everything or Sob Rock.
Mayer brought us back to Continuum with an exceptionally tight rendition of “I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You”, highlighted by a tasteful pre-guitar solo vocal interlude from David Ryan Harris. With stage lights giving the illusion of being underwater, Sob Rock favorite “Wild Blue” followed, gliding along with characteristic smoothness before Mayer took the ending for a little ride with some fresh guitar improvisation. Then, the space gray Paul Reed Smith McCarty solidbody guitar, known for its use in Dead & Company, made an appearance to supply the necessary humbucker-heavy sound for Mayer’s Battle Studies hit, “Edge of Desire.”
By special request of BFF Andy Cohen standing just offstage, Mayer donned a Moc Sand Silver Sky and led the band in the live debut of Sob Rock track “‘Til the Right One Comes” to a roar of crowd approval. Notably, the live performance featured a much heavier touch on the kick and snare drums from Ferrone than the studio recording.
John Mayer – “Til The Right One Comes” – 2/20/22
[Video: Gummy Visuals]
Going from a debut to a classic, Harris picked up an acoustic guitar for his moment in the spotlight—that gorgeous, partial cover of Prince’s “Beautiful Ones” that Mayer uses as a trampoline to jump into fan favorite, “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.”
John Mayer – “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” – 2/20/22
[Video: Gummy Visuals]
New drummer Ferrone continued to make his presence and his musical experience felt with a heavier-than-normal touch on “New Light” which ended up creating a much more “‘80s” sound in that live take than it did in the studio. Another old favorite, “Waiting On the World to Change,” was supercharged by widespread audience engagement, a number of melodic ad-libs on the vocals, and legitimately improvised, Palladino- and Ferrone-led funk breakdown ahead of the final chorus.
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Sob Rock caboose “All I Want Is to Be With You” offered a dose of reflective tenderness before ramping up for an outro full of emotionally-charged guitar work to end the main set. Finally, Mayer reemerged onstage for an encore and sent the audience off into the night with a sweeping performance of his Grammy-winning hit “Gravity”.
John Mayer – “Gravity” – 2/20/22
[Video: Joel Shover]
Catch Mayer again tonight, Monday, February 21st, for round two at the Garden.
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from the first night at MSG courtesy of Matthew Rea.
Setlist: John Mayer | Madison Square Garden | New York, New York | 2/20/22
Set: Last Train Home, Shot In the Dark, Belief, Something Like Olivia, I Guess I Just Feel Like, Who Says, Rosie, Shouldn’t Matter But It Does, Helpless, Your Body Is A Wonderland, I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You), Wild Blue, Edge of Desire, ‘Til the Right One Comes (live debut), Beautiful Ones > Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, New Light, Waiting On the World to Change, All I Want Is To Be With You