John Mayer keeps things ultra mellow, with mixed results, at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Milwaukee got a major dose of John Mayer Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum — two sets, 2½ hours and 25 songs. 

And most of the fans who filled the arena were on their feet for all of it.

Considering Mayer's show felt at times like the concert equivalent of Melatonin, that’s pretty surprising. But fans were refreshed by Mayer's ultra soft rock, even if the eight-piece band behind him was frequently chill on the cusp of sleepy, especially during the first set. 

John Mayer performs at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday.

Mayer was mellow, too, compared with recent area appearances. With Dead & Company at Alpine Valley, Mayer's had to stay on his toes. At Summerfest in 2013, he was kicking off his first tour after a granuloma in his throat nearly ended his singing career.

Those were more engaging performances than this one. Now 41, Mayer has nothing to prove and, based on Tuesday's show, is enjoying midlife serenity. He sarcastically referred to “No Such Thing” as a hot single burning up the charts, and joked that he tried to write a song last year with big beats 24-year-olds would dig.

In actuality, there are plenty of millennials who really dig Mayer — superstar Shawn Mendes among them — and along with the career-long fans at Fiserv Forum Tuesday, twentysomethings relished the smoothness of "Heartbreak Warfare," "Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey," and eight other songs during that first hour. 

Personally, I found Mayer's musical pleasantness during set one a bit monotonous, primarily because he was the only musician who actually had the freedom to flex.

He spiked a few songs like "Vultures" and "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" with fabulously flashy guitar solos, but you kind of knew where Mayer was going once he laid down those first notes. There was one distinctly bold solo, though, for "Helpless," a highlight from Mayer's so-so 2017 album "The Search for Everything," with whispered Delta squeals that ultimately sparked a fiery, funky strut. 

For the second, 90-minute set, Mayer relinquished a little control to select members of the band, and things improved. For "Waitin' on the Day," rhythm guitarist Isaiah Sharkey earned one of the strongest ovations of the night with a stunning guitar solo that soared and dived with bold strokes and nuanced soul as Mayer intensely looked on, acoustic guitar in hand and pride in his eyes (mixed, perhaps, with a touch of envy?).

Mayer's other guitarist and backing vocalist, David Ryan Harris, displayed a spine-tingling falsetto over an all-too-brief snippet of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" en route to Mayer's "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room." Backing vocalists Tiffany Palmer and Carlos Ricketts finally got to show off their soaring voices during the encore, for "Gravity," but only for a short segue into another Mayer guitar solo. 

Mayer also had the stage to himself for a three-song acoustic break at the start of the second set that included breakout 2001 hit "Your Body Is a Wonderland," which Mayer Tuesday said he resented once drunk dudes started mocking it in front of him. "Now that I'm older, I want to play the song with complete sincerity, dopey lyrics and all," he said, saying it takes him back to when he was younger.

And he did just that, with happy fans on their feet. I just wish Mayer would bring more youthful passion to his show — or would allow his clearly talented band to do it for him. 

The takeaways

  • How low-key was Tuesday's concert? Even after confetti fired off during finale "New Light," Mayer appeared to spin around in slow motion.
  • This is the one show when you may have actually been better off saving money for the "cheap seats," especially if you prefer to sit. While everyone on the floor and in the lower bowl had to either stand or sit and stare at people's backs for most of the show Tuesday, pretty much everyone in the upper bowl was seated by the second set. 
  • Mayer took a moment to admire some signs from fans, welcoming attendees from Rome, and praising one sign's font. He also helped a fan realize that her sign was upside down. It was a puzzling mix of emojis that, decoded, requested that Mayer autograph a music book for his 2006 album "Continuum." Mayer obliged right before the encore.
  • Mayer had the wrong guitar for "Belief," and displayed to the audience how "pukey" it would sound during the introduction. The right guitar certainly sounded better, but Mayer is such a good guitarist the "pukey" rendition wasn't all that bad.
  • I spied a sweet moment during "Dear Marie" that would be perfect in a rom-com's final scene, or a "Bachelor" episode, with a couple playfully dancing with flailing arms in an empty row, as Mayer's towering shadow hovered over them. 

The Set List

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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