To me, the sugary pop-rock of John Mayer's first few albums are like a big bucket of Halloween candy. Sweet, delectable, and hard to resist, but it can tend to make you a little sick after ingesting too much. That has essentially been my relationship with John Mayer. The hardest thing for me to swallow about Mayer's music has always been his rather annoying vocals – I'm talking Dave Mathews annoying, my friends. It has almost prevented me from really giving his music, and guitar playing, a fair chance. Until now, that is.
I am mostly familiar with Mayer's music because of my wife, who has had no problem at all consuming buckets of that Mayer candy every day. I only started warming to John Mayer after picking up his terrific 2005 blues-rock, power-trio album, Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert, and then watching his impressive performance on the second Crossroads Guitar Festival DVD, which featured songs from what is easily his strongest album to date, 2006's Continuum.
Until then, I had never really understood what all of the fuss was about the Mayer's guitar playing. His previous albums were not exactly "guitar albums", in the sense that all of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan's albums were. Mayer's guitar playing has always been much too subtle for my taste, but with Continuum, and especially Try!, Mayer is now demanding to be taken seriously. And indeed he should be.
After watching this latest John Mayer concert DVD, I must now give credit where credit is due. The world's most eligible bachelor can definitely pluck those guitar strings with the best of them. Mayer has matured immensely over the course of his last two albums, and his brilliant performance on this DVD is simply icing on the cupcakes.
Where The Light Is was recorded at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on December 8, 2007. The concert was broken up into three distinct segments; an intimate acoustic set, a blues, power-trio set, and a set featuring his full touring band. This format really allows Mayer to showcase his mastery of several different guitar styles, and makes this one of the most unique concerts I have ever seen.
Mayer begins the acoustic set by going back to his debut album for a gorgeous solo performance of "Neon". After a couple more impressive solo numbers, Mayer is joined onstage by his band guitarist Robbie McIntosh who adds some magnificent Dobro guitar embellishments throughout the hit ballad "Daughters". I'll take these acoustic arrangements over the original versions any day of the week. I was surprised at just how good Mayer was with an acoustic. With his other band guitarist, David Ryan Harris, joining them, they then close out the acoustic set with a folksy take on the Tom Petty classic "Free Fallin'".
As good as the acoustic set was, the blues trio set is even better. Before the performance, Mayer is shown backstage with his trio bandmates, bassist, Pino Palladino, and drummer, Steve Jordan, as they change into matching black suites, with crisp white shirts, and thin black ties. They may have looked very cool in those slick suites, but they came out smoldering. With obvious similarities to Cream, the John Mayer Trio rivals any other blues-rock power trio going. Steve Jordon's amazing drumming style leans more towards jazz than it does the blues, and as far as Pino Palladino's bass playing goes – lets just say that The Who chose him to replace the late John Entwistle for a good reason.
They perform songs mostly from the Trio and Continuum albums, including two impressive Hendrix covers, "Wait Until Tomorrow" and "Bold As Love". Mayer plays a variety of Fenders Strats throughout the set, and even breaks out a large Guild, hollow-body, electric for the very jazzy "Come When I Call", a previously unreleased Mayer tune. The highlight of the set had to be the long, slow-blues jam, "Out Of My Mind", where Mayer absolutely seals the deal for me. Call me greedy, but I wish he would just stick to the blues stuff from now on.
The full band set featured most of the best Continuum tracks, along with the Room For Squares hit "Why Georgia". Mayer's music really comes to life and is much more satisfying to me live. The sound is more organic, and Mayer's guitar is much more pronounced. The entire set was strong and very diverse, mixing in elements of pop, jazz, blues, and soul. Mayer leads into "Gravity" with a few verses of Otis Reading's "I've Got Dreams to Remember" and then closes it out with a ridiculous guitar solo that served as the perfect set closer.
Steve Jordon and Pino Palladino join the rest of the band during a three song encore that was highlighted by a tremendously spirited performance of "Belief". Mayer not only won me over with his guitar playing, but I now have a new appreciation for his vocals, which were very strong and affecting throughout the show. I found his unique vocal style to be especially well suited for the blues material.
I am sure that Where the Light Is will be added to many an audiophile's short list of concert DVDs that they use to demo their overpriced home theater systems. The DVD features a couple of the best audio tracks I have ever heard, arriving in both 24-bit, 96 kHz lossless stereo PCM, and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. Bass response is particularly impressive, and each instrument is presented with crystal clear precision.
Director Danny Clinch shot the concert on 35mm film and the cinematography looks amazing. The camera work provides a unique level of intimacy that separates it from most other concert DVDs. The perspective is more like if you were able to wonder around the entire stage during the show, than if you were watching from out in the audience. This is advertised as "A Film by Danny Clinch", so you do have to put up with a some backstage and interview footage between each of the sets, but it works well in this particular multi-set format.
Special features include a multi-angle camera presentation of "Who Did You Think I Was", where you can focus exclusively on either Steve Jordon or Pino Palladino, as well as a short feature called "Slow Dancing On Mulholland Drive", that features Mayer sitting outside, presumably just off of Mulholland Drive, jamming on a big Gibson, hollow-body, electric, as the sun sets behind the Hollywood hills.
I was only expecting to like this DVD about as much as Mayer's previous one, Any Given Thursday, and that is not very much. It is nice to be so pleasantly surprised every once in a while, and Where The Light Is did just that. This is one of the best concert DVDs of the year.
02. Stop This Train
03. In Your Atmosphere
05. Free Fallin'
06. Everyday I Have The Blues
07. Wait Until Tomorrow
08. Who Did You Think I Was
09. Come When I Call
10. Good Love Is On The Way
11. Out Of My Mind
13. Bold As Love
14. Waiting On The World To Change
15. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
16. Why Georgia
17. The Heart Of Life
18. I Don't Need No Doctor
20. I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
22. I'm Gonna Find Another You