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The big kiss-off: John Mayer brings the war of words to Greensboro

by Ryan Snyder

John Mayer basks in the glow of…John Mayer.

(photo by Ryan Snyder)

Given all of the attention that John Mayer as received as of late, one hardworking publicist is probably due for a raise. Since his 2001 release Room For Squares, Mayer has shifted from an insipid, light FM suck-up to a Mark Knopfler-lite, whiteboy bluesman to the most interesting interview since Dennis Rodman. He’s worked hard to fashion himself into a pure celebrity distinguished by his bizarre Twitter persona, enviable dating conquests and combustible media facade. For better or worse, he’s become a lot of things to a lot of people, but it was apparent from his Monday night performance at the Greensboro Coliseum that in the public relations war, Mayer is more Rovian than Rodmonian.

Those who attended the pre-show meet-and-greet with Mayer got a rather candid glimpse of the heartthrob at his most acerbic. Amidst a performance that included “Heartbreak Warfare” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Freefallin’,” the question and answer session was highlighted by one of the most anemic marriage proposals in history. Though in fairness, the guy had tears streaming from his eyes as he produced the microphone from under his seat, but that didn’t make Mayer’s reaction any less priceless.

“He’s a poet,” Mayer said, as the groom-to-be labored to find the words. “Not many people can do it in shorthand.”

Granted, his almost awkward bluntness is the result of having equal parts razor wit and a sense of callous uncaring, but Mayer is the opposite of the typical anodyne celebrity personality. I could tell you all about how he opened with “Heartbreak Warfare,” “No Such Thing” and “Bigger Than My Body,” but evaluating Mayer as a musician is almost irrelevant at this point in his career. He’s a talented guitar player, yes. It was pretty cool to see him nail the sixteenths in three-quarter time after the first verse of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and his use of a drumstick on the guitar solo during “Gravity” peaked the show’s intensity.

He’s so keenly aware that songs like “Your Body is a Wonderland” rank among the sappiest and most insipid love songs in the history of music that his often desultory comments are more often aimed himself than his hapless fans. He prefaced “Perfectly Lonely” with a slick allusion to his masturbatory habits in the infamous Us Weekly interview that likely flew over the heads of a few.

“Being alone is like a double-edged sword, only the good parts are not there,” Mayer said. “Except for four minutes at a time…when I’m playing this song.”

Mayer’s words are such a revealing glimpse into post-modern, post-internet male sexuality in a very public forum, but the thing is, he’s so good at bloviating that so many have begun to take him at face value without thinking twice. He wasn’t hesitant to use his powers for good, however. He paused shortly after “Vultures” to acknowledge a sign that at first glance appeared to simply say, “Wanna be my first?” “I’m not gonna acknowledge that sign,” Mayer said before realizing another contained a prefacing message. “Okay, it says ‘sweet sixteen and never been kissed.’ I just saw the first part. Okay, come on up.”

Yep. Mayer was ready to kiss a 16-year old girl on her birthday in front of about 15,000 people. “This is gonna get weird. This is gonna get real, real weird,” he sang as the star-struck teen made her way to the stage amidst the band’s slow-jam soundtrack. He continued the serenade with lines like “Gonna be drivin around in your Jetta with some real cool mixtapes” before planting one — right on her cheek. And he was right. It did get pretty weird when she grabbed him by his arms with a wily look him her eyes and looked to be professing her love to him. Mayer, wearing his own deer-in-headlights look, made quick evasive action as guitarist Robbie McIntosh escorted her offstage as Mayer led into “Half of My Heart.”

Mayer closed the set out with a little of the verbal self-love, though in a journalistic context, his words were the equivalent of a hanging curveball, just ready to be knocked out of the park. Once again, it was clear he knew what he was doing. “The notion that I could be the hope written on a ticket is powerful,” Mayer said, in thanking the audience. “All I want to be is a fantasy. That’s all I want to be.”

He’s probably going from city to city making the same pulpy pronouncements, but even the subtext of encore “Who Says” indicates that Mayer is an avowed graduate of what Elvis Costello called the “F**k Me, I’m Sensitive School.” It’s new, but further examines his life as a rogue ladykiller, which is more or less what he’s since his debut. Loathe him or love him, Mayer doesn’t seem to care. He’s just a gawky-looking guy with a boyish face and killer guitar skills that drives women crazy. Basically, he’s the guy every man secretly wants to be.

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