I found myself in the sunset of Bangkok, walking towards the Impact Arena, where the lights were blazing against the round ball of orange that is the setting sun, in the middle of skies with arrays of purple and orange. On the large Billboard it said “Tonight: John Mayer Live”. My heart skipped a beat. It was in the middle of the week, and I was in Bangkok for just 24 hours to see him perform live for the first time.
As I sat in the indoor stadium, amidst the faint smell of beer and heavy perfume the ladies passing by were wearing with their fancy handbags, I marvelled my John Mayer concert white t-shirt and thought about how different this was than the pumped up, youthful show Coldplay had put on in the city a couple of years ago which I also went to (and you can read about it here). But everyone who has been listening to John Mayer knows that you don’t come to his concerts for the confetti or dancing lights or sweat. You come to his concert because you want to listen to some good sounds made predominantly by his guitar, and his corny lyrics.
But what’s wrong with corny? We tease ‘corny’ as something to be made fun of, but secretly we all love it. Secretly, we all think about it.
The show opened with ‘No Such Thing’. The crowd roared. “They love to tell you/stay inside the line/ but something’s better/ on the other side”, the song quipped. The search for more than just what is seemed to be a recurring theme for a lot of John Mayer’s earlier songs. But of course that would never surpass the major subject he writes the most – about the complexities of love and heartbreak.
The concept of the show was a simple one. It’s a bar show setting, with the stage filled with instruments, and so many paddles for each of his guitars. He changed guitars so often you lose track of the frequency. "There are so many paddles!” he exclaimed at one point in the middle of it. By the third song I was already up on my feet, dancing and swaying to his tunes. Eventually I stood up for the rest of the show – the guitar solos were too damn good to listen to them sitting down.
Gravity, the crowd favourite, began in its familiar riff. The crowd went wild. The song, which was dubbed by Billboard as ‘one of the best blues-rock record of all time’, allegedly took him only 10 minutes to write and he came up with it while in the shower. And then there was one of my favourites, ‘Edge of Desire’, a song about the fear of having someone you love and lost forget about you. “I want you so bad I’d go back to the things I believed/there, I’ve just said it/I’m scared you’d forget about me”. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Everyone who has heard and loved that song has someone specifically in mind when they listen to it, and I am not an exception. One of the biggest fears of losing someone you loved is that someday, they’d forget about you. Lost in a distant part of someone’s memory.
“I want to make sure everyone gets at least 75% of the songs they want,” he said mid-concert. “No I can’t play a medley. I’m too young for medleys!” he joked. The rest of the list were the things I have enjoyed listening to over and over again all these years ever since college. ‘Who Says’ is a song about getting stoned, and ‘Stop This Train’ is about time moving too fast, but they’re both really about the angst of getting older. ‘Slow Dancing In a Burning Room’ talked about holding on to a relationship although it was clearly over. ‘Waiting On The Day’ was about the longing for something that lasts. The rest are just as beautifully played.
The show was over with an encore of his newer singles, which everyone danced to wholeheartedly. When it was over I felt a sense of nostalgia. I’ve loved these songs through many phases in my life, before I knew what they meant, and after I knew what they meant. It’s like listening to my own emotions and stories through the music and lyrics of some quirky middle-aged guy who lives in California and leads a completely different life than me, but weirdly, he makes complete sense. I walked home singing ‘Edge Of Desire’ loudly, my heartstrings being pulled a little bit stronger than usual this time.