John Mayer works his magic in Pittsburgh

written by Scott Tady for The Beaver County Times

Most concert artists have two kinds of songs, John Mayer theorized Sunday in Pittsburgh.

They’ve got songs that people pay good money to hear, and then there’s that other bunch of deeper, lesser-known songs that casual concertgoers might view as a good time to make a restroom run.

But Mayer said it’s different for him, in that his fans place equal significance on all his music, giving him an artistic freedom for which he’s very grateful.

He made a valid point.

Sure, a nearly sold-out PPG Paints Arena responded with a slightly larger ripple of excitement when Mayer busted out “Your Body is a Wonderland,” his 2001 hit, done in solo acoustic fashion two songs into his second set.

Ditto “Waiting on the World to Change,” another of his radio hits done near the second set’s conclusion.

But for the most part, the Pittsburgh faithful equally weighted their enthusiasm for each of Mayer’s 27 selections. And why not? Each of those songs sounded superb, showcasing Mayer’s easy-to-enjoy voice and tasteful guitar playing (and slaying) backed by a tight eight-member band flitting effortlessly from bluesy to jazzy pop-rock and rock.

If you didn’t climb on board the Mayer train until he teamed up with Grateful Dead alums several years ago, well, you got plenty to savor with Mayer’s Pittsburgh performance. He delivered splendid guitar grinding at the end of “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and the pre-encore’s “Gravity,” which built slowly and steadily into something truly special.

If you were more a fan of Mayer’s sensitive and smart songs about love and longing, there was plenty to appreciate, too, like early Set One picks “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and “Love on the Weekend.”

It was a night where an arena with maybe 14,000 audience members still felt intimate, as the 41-year-old Mayer connected with a crowd chiefly in its mid-30s and 40s. Though plenty of younger fans populated the venue, too, something Mayer admitted he never would have foreseen years ago, adding that the new generation of supporters makes his songs “more important than ever.”

Sunday night concert crowds traditionally are the most sedate, though Mayer applied the proper context when joking this show would be comparable to a comfy sweatpants/laundry day kind of Sunday.

It did feel cozy, not that there weren’t rousing moments galore, as in the Set One closing “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” where his male and female backing singer and one of his two drummers supplied soulful vocal harmonies before Mayer unleashed some electric guitar with bite.

Set Two, with Mayer shedding his dark jacket, included a lovely solo acoustic rendering of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” the punchy organ and dual drum-led “Why Georgia” and a short-and-sweet version of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.”

Then came “The Age of Worry,” a 2012 gem touting defiance against cynicism and rigid thinking. A lyric video on the big screen enhanced what became one of the night’s standouts, and proved Mayer’s point that his non-hits make an impact, too.

Subtle most of the night, the two backing singers grabbed the spotlight in “Gravity,” singing a bit of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams” in a rousing manner before Mayer let loose with a flurry of guitar notes while hopping exuberantly in his white sneakers.

Mayer played a bit of harmonica for the encore’s “Born and Raised,” one final reminder he’s a multi-talented artist who finds a way to make every song interesting.

There was no opening act. None was needed.