John Mayer has been persecuted for years. Way back in 2003, the Village Voice mocked his music in an article called "Phallus In Wonderland." The piece called single "Bigger Than My Body" a "ham-handed, palm-chafing, kitten-killing, unsaturated wank with plenty of licks."
All of which is why I tend to keep my John Mayer fanaticism to myself. But the haters need to realize that there's more to him than kitschy sentimentalism and dick jokes. Dude can write a song.
I get why people don't like him. It's the same reason they don't like Gavin DeGraw or Rob Thomas. The easy-listening, nice-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar meme is overwrought. But underneath Mayer's feather-filled-pillows-image lies a gritty artist. Need proof? Check out his 2008 live album, Where the Light Is.
It offers little more than John, an acoustic guitar, and 10,000 screaming fans. He floats through hits like "Daughters," and then really gets going on his quarter-life crisis anthem, "Stop This Train." The bare performance highlights the song's forthright lyrics: "Don't know how else to say it/ Don't wanna see my parents go/ One generation's length away/ From fighting life out on my own." This was enough to convince me that the dude can write.
On the album's third (!) disc he moves a blues-rock version of "I Don't Need No Doctor," genre-crossing with a certain savoir-faire. It's a Ray Charles cover performed in what could be described as the style of Jimi Hendrix, and it's quite raw.
In fact, there are nods to many legends scattered throughout the collection. "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" (a metaphor for a failing relationship, of course) sounds like a cut from an unreleased Eric Clapton set, while the gratifying 10-minute version of "Gravity" conjures Stevie Ray Vaughn's guitar heroics, along with Donny Hathaway's classic knack for live re-imaginings. Translation: dayum.
I'm not even gonna talk about how he simultaneously plays a sick solo and the main melody on "Vultures." I'll just show you.