John Mayer Returns to the Bowl with His Voice Intact: Concert Review

Kyleen James
Polarizing singer-guitarist thanks his doctor and fans for restoring his voice and sticking by him in two-hour plus set.

The singer-guitarist, backed by a crack five-piece band and two back-up singers, made L.A. his final stop on the first leg of his latest tour.

About halfway through his sold-out show Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl, John Mayer got serious for a moment and thanked his throat surgeon, Dr. Gerald Berke, for getting him "singing on the stage again," acknowledging that "it's been a long road." Backed by a crack five-piece band and two back-up singers, Mayer then dedicated "Speak for Me," a song from his 2012 album Born and Raised, to the good doctor, and sang it flawlessly, complete with high notes.

A few years ago, Mayer underwent two vocal cord surgeries that left him without a voice. He finally regained it after a treatment from Berke that involved pumping Botox into his vocal cords to temporarily paralyze them, allowing them to heal. What a difference some Botox can make. Throughout Saturday night's two-hour-and-15-minute set, Mayer was strong in voice, as he and his band eased through selections from his six-album catalog. The Bowl date was the final stop on the first leg of the trek, which moves to Europe next week, before returning to the States mid-November.

Since Mayer has been off the road for a few years, the tour is in support of two albums. It's named for Born and Raised, but he also issued a second set, Paradise Valley, this year, featuring some guest spots from his on-again-off-again girlfriend Katy Perry and his pal, R&B crooner Frank Ocean. It being Hollywood and all, some fans might have been waiting for a big-star duet on Saturday night. It never materialized, but that was just fine, since Mayer and his band did an adequate job entertaining without any surprises.

STORY: John Mayer's 'Paradise Valley': What the Critics Are Saying 

A polarizing figure sometimes better known for who he's dating or what he's saying rather than his music, Mayer made a strategic move to escape the limelight and retreat to Montana a few years back. In fact, the cover of Paradise Valley depicts him as a poncho-wearing mountain man and Mayer integrated that great wide open theme with an amazing backdrop that first depicted a starry night with shooting stars before eventually revealing daytime desert landscapes with floating flower petals, then snowflakes, and then again, nightfall with a campfire and dancing shadow figures.

With Mayer's music rarely wavering from a mid-tempo groove, at times it did feel that the show lasted a whole night and day, but it did have its moments. Early in the set, Mayer promised he'd cut down on the between-song banter so he could squeeze a few more songs in before curfew and even joked that the full version of the stage talk had been pre-recorded and could be downloaded in full on his website. However, he didn't really keep that promise, which was a plus, because sometimes his between song raps were nearly as entertaining as his music and served as nice introductions to the tunes. That was the case as he preceded his coming-of-age ballad "Stop This Train," which he performed solo on acoustic guitar, with a hilarious monologue about the promise of Los Angeles on a Saturday night, especially between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Switching from acoustic to electric guitars throughout the evening, Mayer once again showed he has the chops to be a guitar hero if he went the harder rock route, but instead, he continues to mine the soft-rock arena that's made he a star, but has also led to some backlash. Toward the end of the set, Mayer thanked his fans for their support and for telling their friends that there is more to him than his 2002 hit "Your Body is a Wonderland." That song, as well as another early hit, "Daughters," was MIA from the set list, but Mayer did serve up some crowd pleasers, including "Why Georgia," "Waiting for the World to Change" and "Who Says." He also offered some choice covers, including a take of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and the blues standard "Driftin' Blues."

However, some of the best moments came with some of his newer and less familiar material. Early in the set, "Wildfire," from his latest album, got things grooving with handclaps and percussion provided by two backing vocalists, the soulful "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" was highlighted by a nice call-and-response section with the backing vocalists, and "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967," performed solo on acoustic, showed off Mayer's knack for intriguing and tuneful storytelling.

When Mayer closed the show with as a scorching take of "Gravity," which included him soloing while kneeling over his guitar lying on the stage floor, and a ferocious 30-second jam, you had to wonder why he didn't turn up the heat earlier and more frequently. Nonetheless, it's good to have you back, John.

Season 11 American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, backed by a six-piece band including a cellist and trumpet player, opened the show with a set that included his own material, as well as a cover of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" and unlikely stabs at Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and DJ Khaled's "All I Do is Win." Closing with his Mumford & Sons-like hit "Home," Phillips showed that's he's effectively made the leap from reality TV star to legitimate concert performer.

Set list:

Queen of California
Half of My Heart
Waiting on the Day
I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
Friend of the Devil
Why Georgia
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
Stop This Train
Driftin' Blues
Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967
Speak for Me
Something Like Olivia
Dear Marie
If I Ever Get Around to Living
Who Says
Waiting on the World to Change
Edge of Desire