Album Review: John Mayer, “Any Given Thursday” (2002)

One thing on my list of “things to do in life” is to see all my favorite musicians live. I’ve already crossed Jamie Cullum off the list (though I’m planning to see him again, and as many times as possible, in fact), and I’m looking forward to the day that I can see Coldplay , Josh Groban, and Jason Mraz live, as well as several other of my top artists. On the top of my list of people to see, however, is John Mayer.

In a way, I’ve already been given this opportunity with the Any Given Thursday CD. The two-disc CD was released in 2003, and features a live performance in Birmingham, Alabama during Mayer’s 2002 Room For Squares Tour. The discs (and accompanying DVD, which I’ll have to review separately) provide a great glimpse of Mayer’s live talent, but as the saying goes, “ain’t nothin’ like the real thing”.

Until then, I’ll be more than happy to settle for this CD.

The CD opens with the sound of a massive crowd cheering. The screams sound like they mostly belong to girls, which is no surprise; keep in mind that this tour was during the height of Mayer’s “sensitive guitarist/singer-songwriter” image, where 85% of his fans were teen or college aged girls. Anyway, after welcoming the crowd, Mayer starts playing guitar and begins singing a small teaser piece. The short song hasn’t been released on any of Mayer’s albums, but the short and simplistic lyrics (“I’ve been gone too long/I’m sorry/I hope you don’t mind…/Can I still come home?”) provide a perfect segue to 3X5.

I’ve always been a fan of this song; in fact, it’s one of my favorites of Mayer’s. The live rendition gets a nice treatment, though it’s clear that his vocals have yet to warm up, as he almost sounds a bit congested during the first verse and chorus. Mayer recently admitted at a Q&A session during the Mayercraft Carrier (a three day cruise tour that Mayer hosted and performed on in February ’08) that until recently, he never did vocal warm-ups before performing live, and it’s apparent here. Still, my love for the song overrides the rough vocals.

The familiar opening chords introduce No Such Thing and the crowd goes wild. Admittedly, the song is another favorite of mine (oh, you’re going to read that phrase a lot during this review), and was the first song that introduced me to Mayer’s music, so I got a bit excited to hear it live, too. The concert version sticks pretty close to the CD one, though Mayer switches up the pronouns during the bridge to include the crowd (“You are invincible/We are invincible/As long as we’re alive”). Mayer and his band (David Labruyere on bass, Stephen Chopek on drums, and Michael Chaves as guitarist, keyboardist, and backing vocalist) sound wonderful together.

Mayer introduces the next song as being “a song about not giving up; about eight chances, and ninth chances, and probably chances into the double digits”. Of course, it’s Back To You. Again, the concert treatment is pretty similar to the CD arrangement, though we get to hear more guitar as Mayer plays away. Likewise, City Love doesn’t stray far from its recorded counterpart, though Mayer’s vocals have seemed to warm up by now and he sounds fantastic.

The world (or at least, John Mayer fans) gets its first introduction to Something’s Missing during this show. The track, later released on Mayer’s sophomore release, Heavier Things, is the only song to have appeared on every of Mayer’s live releases to date (including the John Mayer Trio disc). An extended guitar solo allows Mayer some time to show everyone that not only can he sing, be hopelessly adorable and witty, but that he can also play the guitar like the pros.

He gets the opportunity to show more of his guitar-playing skills as the band leaves the stage, and allows him to play a few songs solo, starting with a rendition of the Stevie Ray Vaughn song, Lenny. Mayer is a self-proclaimed huge fan of Vaughn (he even has the legendary guitar player’s initials, “SRV”, tattooed on his left arm). Mayer plugs in his electric guitar and goes to work; once again proving that he’s an amazingly talented guitarist. The song then fades into one of Mayer’s previously unreleased tracks, Man On The Side.

I fell in love with this song almost immediately. The song is simply composed- just guitar and vocals- but the emphasis is really on the lyrics. The song tells the story of the other man in an adulterous relationship; “the man on the side”, so to speak. The lyrics (written by Mayer and Clay Cook, the co-writer of several songs on Room For Squares) are so honestly written, and tell the story perfectly (“I am the man on the side/Hoping you’ll make up your mind/I am the one who will swallow his pride/Life as the man on the side…/I fell in love with the dream that I built of you/Playing the part of the queen/Taking my own advice/I’m giving up tonight/Good luck to you and the king”). Mayer sings the song with such depth and emotion that you can’t help feeling sorry for him, especially during the last bit of the song, when he switches into his upper register and bit and tries on a lovely falsetto.

As Man On The Side, ends, Mayer playfully proclaims, “Now we’re in the part of the show where I just start playing and I have no idea what happens. I hope you enjoy it.” What “happens” is a slow and relaxing rendition of Message In A Bottle. Mayer plays the old Police hit much like the original, but the tempo is slowed down a bit, giving off a calming vibe. His acoustic guitar is back, and simply paired with Mayer’s soft vocals, helps add intimacy to the performance.

The band (well, Labruyere, at least) is back in time to perform Love Song For No One. When I first reviewed this song on Mayer’s debut disc, it was one of my least favorites, but nearly seven years later (I reviewed the disc in ’03, but I had actually owned it since the fall of ’01), and the song has grown on me more. Sure, it’s not as catchy as some of the other songs, but the lyrics are still great (“Searching all my days just to find you/I’m not sure who I’m looking for/I’ll know it/When I see you/Until then, I’ll hide in my bedroom/Staying up all night just to write/A love song for no one”), and the live version is nice with the emphasis on the acoustic guitar and bass. The crowd also joins in and sings towards the end of the song, which doesn’t annoy me as much as it usually does on live releases.

John Mayer

The second disc begins with Why Georgia. Before starting the actual song, Mayer begins with another “teaser” (titled Go Anywhere), though this time around, the song is longer and features improvised lyrics during the verses (I’ve seen several different versions of the lyrics of this song, but one of the lines during this show is, “Out here/We just sing and play whatever we feel…/When you’re travelling on a box with eighteen wheels/If I can go anywhere at all”). The teaser is a fun and breezy number, and leads easily into Why Georgia.

The song was currently a big hit for Mayer, and it’s easy to tell from the amount of cheers and people singing along in the crowd. The song has always been a favorite of mine, from first listen, probably, and I’m pleased by the live treatment as well (especially as Mayer changes up the lyrics in the first verse, singing, “Leave this sh!t behind”, rather than, “Leave it all behind”).

“This is a song about girly parts,” Mayer jokes as a way to introduce his Grammy award winning song, Your Body Is A Wonderland. The crowd doesn’t stop screaming through this one- and that, paired with the fact that this song has been terribly overplayed- usually amounts to me skipping this track. Still, for the sake of this review, I’m listening all the way through now, and I’ll point out that Mayer’s vocals sound particularly nice here. My Stupid Mouth appears next, and is pretty similar to the version we’re all familiar with, save a few lyrical/musical changes towards the end.

Covered In Rain is another previously unreleased track, which Mayer describes on the DVD as being the “part two” of City Love, because of the reference to the lyric “covered in rain” (which originally shows up in City Love’s bridge) and the reappearance of the character, Lydia. Musically, the two songs couldn’t be more different. Covered In Rain is much more quiet and understated than the song it’s inspired by; the melody has a blues feeling to it, which brings to mind some of Mayer’s more recent work. It’s taken me some time to warm up to this song- I’ll admit that the first few listens of it didn’t leave much of an impact on me. However, it’s Mayer’s sweet vocals and the clever lyrics (“And come December, Lydia left/She mentioned something ‘bout it being for the best/And I can’t say I disagree, and it’s killing me/And now I’m standing facing west/Tracing my fingers round a silhouette/I haven’t gotten used to yet/But it’s the brightest thing I’ve got”) that finally stood out. The guitar solo on this live performance is also fantastic; Mayer plays his heart out, and once again, puts to rest all the critics that once questioned his musical talent.

83 begins with a remixed beginning, before fading into the version that we’ve all come to know and love. The track clocks in at 7:37 due to an extended musical break, allowing Mayer and his band to “jam” a bit. The song ends with Mayer thanking the crowd, introducing the band, and saying goodnight (“Lets grow old together- that might be fun”).

…But any seasoned concert-goer knows that every good musician always comes back for an encore.

Mayer’s encore comes in the form of Comfortable and Neon. The first of the two songs was included on Mayer’s first album, Inside Wants Out. This song has been, and always will be, a favorite of mine. Between the wonderful lyrics (“Our love was comfortable and so broken in/She’s perfect/So flawless/I’m not impressed/I want you back”), sentimental melody, and Mayer’s appropriately heartfelt delivery, the song is one of his best tracks. Mayer sounds particularly good during this live version, and I especially like the small song tacked on towards the end of the song (The melody is the same as Comfortable’s, but features different lyrics: “It’s too bad/That you were my first love/It’s just dumb luck/A technicality/You were ahead of me…/Why’d I have to practice on you, on your heart?”)

Mayer and Chopek (the drummer) start off Neon, by expanding on the jazz/blues vibe that the recorded version has. The drums and guitar sound great together, and Mayer finally begins singing about two minutes into the track. His voice sounds a lot deeper during this song, for some reason, though he still sounds quite nice. Besides the extended introduction, this live version sounds pretty identical to its studio counterpart (coincidently, this is currently my default ringer for my cell phone, which shows my love for this song). The song breaks for another long “jam” session, as everyone gets to show off on their respective instrument, before the song is revived and the bridge and chorus are sung one last time. Mayer says goodnight once more, promising to “spend a lifetime” giving back all the love his fans give him, and the sounds of the crowd’s cheers fade out until the album ends.

Any Given Thursday is another great release from John Mayer. Mayer proves to be a great live musician- he sounds just as great live as he does in the studio (save the first one or two tracks, before his vocals have warmed up), and he brings a lot of charisma to the stage. The live performance also gives us time to admire Mayer as a guitarist, and to hear unreleased and cover songs, both of which are great treats. I can’t wait for the day that I can actually see Mayer live and in person, but until then, this CD will definitely suffice.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
DISC 1:
1. 3X5
2. No Such Thing
3. Back To You
4. City Love
5. Something’s Missing
6. Lenny / Man On The Side
7. Message In A Bottle
8. Love Song For No One

DISC 2:
1. Why Georgia
2. Your Body Is A Wonderland
3. My Stupid Mouth
4. Covered In Rain
5. 83
6. Comfortable
7. Neon

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