Sporting a Giants hat, Mac Ayres looked right at home at The Warfield.
The singer slipped onto the San Francisco stage with ease and belonging, like a good friend who’s been away for far too long.
Ayres’ show on March 30 marked his return to the city (and The Warfield) since December 2021. When he took the indigo-hued stage, the teeming floor and balcony roared with an ovation that lasted almost a minute.
To say Ayres was well-received would be an understatement.
Ayres’ fans’ beaming faces belied their long-held anticipation for his return, along with their unrelenting support of his latest record, Comfortable Enough (Ayres’ fifth studio album).
“Hope my best days aren’t history,” Ayres sang, kicking off his set with the rousing and introspective “It’s Not”. His fans balanced silent awe and loud celebration during the first track, hushed when he sang but whooping with veneration as the instrumentals took over. As Ayres’ voice echoed, the crowd stood rapt with bated breath. It only exhaled between verses as if the act of breathing was inconsequential in Ayres’ presence.
Comfortable Enough heralded Ayres’ dip into genres previously untouched — like smooth Bossa nova in “Me vs. Myself.” Though the song is unlike anything Ayres has ever released, the crowd received it with delightful surprise and a swing in their step as they danced to the music.
On the other hand, Ayres’ titular track “Comfortable Enough” (which had more of an acoustic sound) saw the audience clapping along to the chorus, head-bopping in comfortable vulnerability. His ability to traverse this range gave the audience unbridled permission to experience life in all emotions.
As a self-taught instrumentalist and former bedroom producer, Ayres’ instrumentals have always been a champion of his discography. He engages genres such as indie, R&B, hip-hop and more to concoct a sound entirely his own.
Ayres’ band was five instruments strong and soul-laden, with his saxophone player adding a touch of funk to his old and new music alike.
In a resuscitated rendition of his old hit “Calvin’s Joint,” Ayres swapped the original pensive melody for an uptempo version, scatting and swinging his way into a soul interlude. What followed was a seamless, bass-led transition into “Where U Goin Tonight?,” a track from his fourth album Magic 8ball.
In these rearrangements of his old music and his ability to relayer genres, Ayres calls attention to the different instruments at his arsenal. His unfailing, organic musical instinct was especially evident in his live performance of “Easy,” arguably Ayres’ most famous song.
“This song changed my life,” Ayres explained gratefully.
Sonically, “Easy” is mellow and intentionally repetitive, calming in its chorus loops. However, the track took on new life as the keyboardist transformed the bridge into an extended, foreign melody before circling back into the familiar tune. Expecting warm familiarity and being served new music instead, his fans gleamed with glee. This remix cut through the six years that had passed since the release of “Easy,” brushing the dust off a slightly stale but infinitely loved record.
And while Ayres was the star, his band members effortlessly glided into the spotlight. They were a sublime force of nature, creating chaos and conflict, instruments spontaneously speaking to each other in a spirit akin to live jazz. In the sea of enlivening, euphoric dissonance, the only sense of uniformity came in the form of Ayres and the band’s synchronized head bops and identical smiles.
While his old music proved classic to his fans, his new music was just as adored.
“I wrote this next song during a very hard part of my life,” Ayres admitted in his introduction to “Again,” the first single off Comfortable Enough. Though the song revolves around emotional numbness, it’s clear that Ayres was anything but. His music’s trademark honesty has always been its greatest strength and the unifying quality that draws his diverse fans to a common ground.
“Holy sh—, I’m trying my best not to cry,” Ayres sputtered endearingly when the crowd started tossing him a seemingly unending stream of flowers. As he walked off the stage, arms overflowing with blooms, the crowd seemed to sigh contentedly at a show well done.