Spirited John Mayer, with funky guitar

John Mayer performs in concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 in Camden, N.J. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)
John Mayer performs in concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 in Camden, N.J. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)
Posted: August 27, 2013

John Mayer, who first gained attention more than a decade ago with "Your Body Is a Wonderland," brought a very different theme park to the Susquehanna in Camden on Friday night. It was an entertaining carnivale of jam-band workouts, country-and-western campfire songs, and pop craftsmanship.

The 21/2-hour show was neither as sedate nor as old-timey as his two most recent albums - 2012's Born and Raised and Paradise Valley, which was released last week - would suggest.

That's because Mayer is the embodiment of Teddy Roosevelt's admonition: "Speak softly but carry a big stick." The fact that he's a world-class, flame-throwing guitarist adds a unique dimension to this unreconstructed troubadour. It's like having Clapton and Donovan in the same body.

He used the guitar to tack a blistering, brilliant coda onto "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad," which, up until that point, had been a twinkly white-boy jive, and to drive "Gravity" and a surprisingly funky "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" to stunning Hendrix-ian climaxes.

It was Mayer's guitar that added propulsion to the loping quality of his new material. And there was a mountain of that to work through. Sidelined for more than two years with a serious throat ailment, he introduced a number of fresh entries to his concert repertoire - from "Queen of California," which kicked off the show, to "I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)," the stirringly spiritual encore that Mayer pounded out on the piano.

The voice was not as supple as in previous years, but the singer was in infectiously high spirits. At times, as on "Half of My Heart," his exuberance verged on goofy indulgence.

But he also provided a bounty of musical highlights, like his scintillating spidery solo on "Paper Doll" from Paradise Valley and his falsetto cover of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," which emerged in the middle of "Waiting on the World to Change."

On "If I Ever Get Around to Living," Doug Pettibone put away the lap steel to join Zane Carney and Mayer on guitar, the three of them playing a ringing riff in unison.

Paradise Valley reflects Mayer's love for his spread in Montana, but he took the stage looking like a parody of a poser, a Hollywood homesteader, with a turquoise and silver American Indian amulet around his neck and a long piece of fabric tied around his head and trailing down his back. Still, his musical instincts remain as astute and genuine as ever.

Phillip Phillips opened the show with a long, shambling, and strummy set, which also included a falsetto detour into Gaye territory for "Let's Get It On."

The Season 11 American Idol winner, like Mayer early in his career, has been pigeonholed as a Dave Matthews wannabe. But while Mayer quickly escaped the label, Phillips seems determined to embrace it.


Contact David Hiltbrand at dhiltbrand@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_TV. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/daveondemand.

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