Wednesday, February 24, 2010

John Mayer/Michael Franti, TD Garden, 2/24/10

There's a famous New York Times review of either Gershwin or Ellington, where NYT's classical critic pans him visciously. It's often held up as a case not of the critic being wrong, but of the Times sending the wrong guy. I often feel like that when I go to pop concerts- I don't get into singalongs, or an artist bringing people onstage, or most of the conventions of the form. I would rather hear someone play the new stuff, not the hits. So maybe I'm the wrong critic. But that said, a few words about tonight's show:

- Michael Franti and Spearhead have been touring for ten years, this being their biggest tour ever. (Amazing what a top 20 single will do, even now). Their music has that comfortable, lived-in feeling of a band who like playing together for that long. The set (which I was late for) covered some of Franti's better known songs- "Yell Fire", "Hey Hey Hey", and "Hey (I Love You)", the tremendously catchy radio hit. The last was much faster than the recording, and Franti brought kids up from the audience to sing and dance along in a wonderfully cute Sesame Street moment. (A seven year old white girl upstaged him.) I have nothing but the highest regard for Franti the public person, and his latter day hippie vibe went over great tonight.

- John Mayer is for real. He brings out equal levels of admiration and resentment among musicians, and I've been in the former category for some time. (see this post from ages ago. Still my favorite Mayer record.) He opened with the current hit "Heartbreak Warfare", but the set jumped through all of his records, hits and obscurities alike. (hits included "No Such Thing", which he said he wrote in the Berklee dorm, "Half of My Heart", Why Georgia Why", "Waiting on the World" and "Who Says" as the encore. Un-hits included "Good Love is on the Way", "Who Did You Thing I Was" and a covers of "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Message in a Bottle") For me, the best moments of the set were when he was riffing at the end of a tune- playing an improvised guitar duet, or jamming out. His tangent at the end of "Assasin" was perfect, playing off the pointallistic mbira-ish opening of the tune. He played a short solo set with his electric, and the solo "Who Do You Think I Was" and an improvised, looped intro to "Neon" were worth the whole price of admission. Both he and the band seemed most alive in these moments- the hits weren't quite mailed in, but for me they didn't have the spark of this music.

- While Pino Palladino wasn't on the gig, drummer Steve Jordan was, and he was a literal force of nature. He was the only player besides Mayer to get a feature solo; more than half of it was just a groove, leaving the high hat open just so through most of a measure to make it much funkier. The crowd went nuts for a long 3/4 hemiola and the bigger banging, but that first bit for me was amazing. It almost reminded me of a rock version of the famous Max Roach hi-hat solo; what would happen if you had only the little stuff, could you still kill it?

- Mayer's singing and guitar playing continues to evolve and improve. His delivery in most of the songs he sings is very free, and you can tell the set is not the same each night. Most of his guitar playing was tasteful to tasty, owing a lot to B.B. King and the like for sure, but not gratuitously so. (His solo on "Ain't No Sunshine", a tune I love, did sadly devolve to, er, something Mayer has overshared on in interviews.)

- Speaking of which: Mayer has deservedly gotten into some hot water this month for his dumbass comments in Vanity Fair and Playboy. (I won't link, but they're not hard to find. I felt bad for Franti in this mess. He's getting the shot of a lifetime, something he's been working on forever, and now he has to take questions about the stupid stuff John Mayer says, and he can't really answer them well because it would mean criticizing the meal ticket.)

Specifically in the Playboy interview, he said some things about sex and race that were at best impolitic, at worst racist, and no doubt stupid. gave him the "crazy of the week" award for it. I joked on my Facebook page today if I would come out more wowed by Mayer the musician or annoyed by Mayer the cretin. It was mostly the former, thankfully, BUT... Coming out of "Waiting...", itself a shameless lift of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", he riffed by singing a re-written "Change is Gonna Come", punning "Change" to mean money, joking about being born near a Toys R'Us. I'm sure a lot of the audience didn't catch the reference to the Sam Cooke song, but I sure did, and I resented turning a sort of anthem of civil rights into a dumb joke. John, haven't you filled your "saying dumb S&*(t" quota twice already this month? Don't do that, not now. Cut it out.

(Jazz nerds in the house, I promise an overdue, glowing review of Fred Hersch's solo set last week is coming by Friday...)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Franti/Spearhead song "Hey, Hey, Hey" is not one of their better known songs as you described it. It will be on their new album coming out on August 24th. Franti was giving you exactly what you say you like - the new stuff.