When it comes to John Mayer, the guitar is not simply an instrument — it is an extension of self. He subsumes it; he surrenders to it. He casts different models on and off with relative ease, but each string remains under the constant control of his steady hand. When Mayer’s on stage, he’s on fire, and on the night of March 18, he set San Francisco’s Chase Center ablaze.
An upbeat rhythm mounted as a sign that read “Sob Rock,” the name of the tour and Mayer’s latest album, hung still in fluorescent lights. Eighties synth pulsed through the stadium, building anticipation before the musician appeared in gray trousers and a matching blazer. Between the verses of “Last Train Home,” he’d lean back and close his eyes, his dark hair hanging with calculated nonchalance as he textured the track with lengthy riffs on his pink guitar.
As Mayer soared through an electrifying solo, purple lights pierced the audience. Wavering notes gradually ascended before the guitar yielded to a bouncy, tropical rhythm, signaling the start of 2006’s “Belief.” Throughout the night, Mayer smoothly transitioned between different eras of his career, traversing a terrain of pop-rock, soul, funk and the blues. He reveled in his own versatility, and as he zigzagged through temporal planes, it made for a vibrant ride.
Between songs, the lights would dim and Mayer would switch guitars, handling each with confidence and care. Occasionally, he’d interject with his self-aware charm, introducing tracks with a delightful sense of humor. At one point, he joked that it’s every musician’s dream to hear a crowd chant for “deep cuts” — prompting the audience to do just that. Pleasantly, this energy set the stage for “Changing,” a soft reflection on selfhood and the passage of time. As a city skyline projected onto the back screen, a sea of cellphone flashlights illuminated the venue with their loving, voltaic glow.
Mayer continued on a sentimental streak with his acoustic cover of Beyoncé’s “XO,” accenting raw vocals with tender harmonics. As he played the harmonica, he’d close his eyes and shrug his shoulders high, allowing the sound to wash over him. At just the right moments, his voice would gently inflect upward, his grovely baritone extending into a breathy sigh.
Alone on stage, Mayer proved radiant during show standout “Neon.” The bright screens zoomed onto his left hand as it nimbly navigated the neck of the guitar, tempting watchers to hold onto each individual note. However, where the magic truly originated was in his right hand, as his thumb and index finger formed a self-sustained beat against the body of the instrument. With complete and captivating control, Mayer readily switched the tempo and toyed with the senses, fashioning elusive melodies from the rolling, percussive wave.
Mayer shined on his own, but when accompanied by his band, he burned even brighter. During lengthy interludes, he and guitarist Isaiah Sharkey would regularly play off each other, their notes tightly winding and recoiling with palpable dynamism. In an intimate moment, David Ryan Harris delivered a breathtaking cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” his ringing falsetto lilting over the acoustic guitar. All stood suspended in inspired stillness — the spell only broken by the familiar intro to “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.”
Much to fans’ delight, Mayer closed the night with a double encore of “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “New Light” — from his first and latest albums, respectively. The singles may occupy different artistic eras, but united under Mayer’s magnetic energy, they seemed to naturally coexist. In this way, Mayer belied linearity, instead leaning into the timelessness of songs both old and new.
Throughout the night, Mayer successfully led listeners through the long, strange trip of his musical career. On stage, his songs assumed new and continual life — and they beautifully burned in a neon haze from which one simply could not look away.