Album Review: John Mayer, “Where The Light Is” (2008)

The last time I reviewed a John Mayer concert CD (Any Given Thursday, 2002 ) I had yet to see my favourite musician in concert.  Finally, in August ‘08, I saw him in California at the Sleep Train Amphitheatre and was absolutely blown away.  Mayer was performing songs from his record-breaking hit album, Continuum, and I was pleased with the set list of new songs as well as covers (he did an amazing version of Duffy’s “Mercy”) and older hits.  Seeing John Mayer live in concert was one of the most wonderful concert experiences I’ve ever had, and later that year I got to relive it all when I purchased the CD/DVD, Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles.

Where The Light Is was recorded at the Nokia Theater in December 2007.   The money raised at the show went to the Annual John Mayer Holiday Charity Revue, so not only are you essentially supporting a good cause by watching/listening to the show, you’re also getting nearly two hours of stellar entertainment.  Mayer performs a an acoustic set first, followed by a set with the John Mayer Trio, and then ends with a set performed with his regular touring band.

The CD opens with the sounds of loud cheers before Mayer kicks into an acoustic version of Neon, a song first released on his Inside Wants Out EP (though more famously known for being on his debut CD,Room for Squares).  Neon has always had a sort of bluesy feeling, but the live version gets the total blues treatment, as Mayer plays a short groove solo on his guitar.  The laid-back vibe of the song works well and perfectly sets a relaxing, intimate mood for the acoustic set.

One of my favourite Mayer songs arrives next with the acoustic rendition of Stop This Train.  The song was first released on Continuum, and though the acoustic version doesn’t stray too far from the original, it’s still lovely to listen to, especially as Mayer tries out a few different vocal stylings during the verses.  In Your Atmosphere is one of my favourite unreleased songs; I’ve heard the track various times on bootleg concert recordings, and I’ve always loved the emotional lyrics dealing with the complications of a long-distance relationship (“I don’t know what its like to land and not race through your door/I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore…/I’m not sure that I really ever could/Hold on to your hotel key in your bedroom neighborhood/Me sleep-walkin in Hollywood”).  The mellow guitar fits in perfectly with the melancholy feeling, and Mayer’s voice sounds smooth and strong as he sings this track.

Of course, the biggest hit from Heavier Things gets a live treatment on Daughters.  I’ve grown tired of this song over the years; though the lyrics still speak to me (“On behalf of every man/Looking out for every girl/You are the god and the weight of her world/So fathers, be good to your daughters”), the song has been greatly overplayed, particularly after its Grammy win.  However, I do enjoy the live versions of this song and this one is just as good as the others I’ve heard.  The song is even slower than the album version, with more emphasis put on Mayer’s vocal delivery.  The best of the acoustic set follows with the album’s lead single, Free Fallin’.  I was a bit surprised when I first heard that Mayer would be covering Tom Petty’s classic, but he puts a beautiful spin on it, especially when he reaches for the high notes in the chorus.  His breezy rendition has easily become another of my favourite songs by him.

Mayer is joined by bassist, Pino Palladino, and drummer, Steve Jordan, for the John Mayer Trio set. First song on the set is blues standard, Everyday I Have The Blues.  You’re immediately greeted to the sounds of the Trio rocking out, and it’s instantly obvious that these guys are serious about their musicianship.  Each member of the trio sounds excellent on their respective instrument, and Mayer even lands an impressive guitar solo towards the middle of the track.

Some of the songs from the Trio’s Try! CD make an appearance, including the band’s rockin’ cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Wait Until Tomorrow.  Though I enjoy the Trio songs, I have to say having already owned the Try! CD sort of weakens the experience for me; while the band sounds great on all of the tracks, the renditions sound pretty identical to the live versions I already heard on Try!  One “new” song is included, a blues track titled Come When I Call.  I’m pretty sure I heard this song at the show I went to, but I still enjoy it; Mayer’s seductive guitar work is nice, and I love the authentic blues sound which sounds less like John Mayer and more like B.B. King.

Mayer is backed by his full touring band for the next and final set.  Inspirational hit song, Waiting On The World To Change, is first up, and while I loved this song a lot when I first heard it on Continuum, I have to admit that it’s no longer really one of my favourites.  I can’t really pinpoint why- perhaps it’s suffered from the same overplayed syndrome as Daughters- but the live version sticks too closely to the original for me to change my mind about it.  It’s not a bad song, but definitely not my favourite in Mayer’s catalogue.

Having the full band on stage means we obviously get to hear more instruments, which is nice, particularly on songs like Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.  I’ve never gotten tired of this heartwrenching torch song, and it’s really nice to hear it here with the rhythm guitar, bass, and backing vocalists.  Mayer’s vocals are admittedly a bit scratchy by this point of the concert, but he still works the song out nicely. Since most of the concert has been Continuum-heavy, it’s really nice to hear Mayer return to some of his older songs, particularly Why Georgia.  This was the song that really cemented my love for John Mayer; I knew I loved him from the first time I heard “No Such Thing”, but I knew I really loved him when I heard this song on his CD.  The live version is pretty similar to the studio version, but it’s nice to hear just for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else.

A Ray Charles cover appears with I Don’t Need No Doctor, which sounds like something that should’ve been played during the Trio set.  Still, Mayer manages to get down without his Trio counterparts, and delivers another sassy bass line.  I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You follows and is another stripped-back groove track, featuring a longer guitar intro.  This intro is also used on the DVD menu, and I still enjoy it, even after having accidently left the DVD menu playing for an hour once while I was on the phone.  Anyway, the drums kick in and the song goes to the version we’re familiar with from the CD.  I’ve always loved this song- the contradictory lyrics make me smile (“I will beg my way into your garden/I will break my way out when it rains/Just to get back to the place where I started/So I can want you back all over again”)- and the jazzy live treatment is just as likable as the studio rendition.

At the concert I went to, Mayer performed Gravity in a medley with Otis Redding’s I’ve Got Dreams to Remember, and ended it with The Smashing Pumpkin’s song, “Today”.  It would’ve been awesome to hear that same rendition here (really, it was both strange and lovely), but I at least get half of it, as Mayer starts Gravity off by performing a soulful version of Dreams.  The song then fades into a pretty, acoustic version of Gravity.  I love every live version of Gravity, because the song is so beautiful and passionate, and the live versions always allow for more soul, if that makes any sense.  For example, on this version, Mayer takes a break from singing to pour his heart out during a long acoustic guitar solo, and it sounds like the guitar is actually singing itself.  Then, the end of the track features vocalists that sound more like a gospel choir than standard background singers, and the whole thing feels like some sort of religious experience.  I’m a Christian, but I definitely enjoy attending the Church of Mayer as well.

The concert and CD end with I’m Gonna Find Another You.  The studio version is considerably shorter than this one, but that’s because this live rendition includes another instrumental break where Mayer and his band jam out on their instruments.  Any doubts of Mayer’s talent and musicianship should be easily erased with a few listens to the songs on this live album.

Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles
is an excellent CD.  John Mayer is a truly talented lyricist, vocalist, and guitarist and all his talents are apparent on this CD.  It’s nice to hear the John Mayer Trio again (even if the songs are very similar to their live CD), and the intimate acoustic set is alone worth buying the CD for.  If you’ve never seen Mayer in concert, or have and want to revisit the experience, this is definitely the CD for you.

Rating: 5 stars

Track List
Acoustic Set:
1. Neon
2. Stop This Train
3. In Your Atmosphere
4. Daughters
5. Free Fallin’
Trio Set:
6. Everyday I Have The Blues
7. Wait Until Tomorrow
8. Who Did You Think I Was
9. Come When I Call
10. Good Love Is On The Way
11. Out Of My Mind
12. Vultures
13. Bold As Love
Band Set:
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
19. Gravity
20. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
21. Belief
22. I’m Gonna Find Another You


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