WINNIPEG - There are few performers out there who can negotiate the tricky terrain between soft-spoken pop ballads and ballsy, bluesy rockers, but budding guitar hero John Mayer may just prove to be one of them.
Certainly, if last night's show at MTS Centre is any indication, Mayer is already well on his way to shedding his light-rock troubadour trappings, and replacing them with the acoutrements of a skilled-and-seasoned pro.
But last night's gig, however well-received by the enthusiastic crowd of 6,500, also felt a bit like the output of an artist -- a relatively young artist, to be sure -- who hasn't quite decided which direction he wants to go in.
So while Mayer, recently dubbed Slowhand Jr., can work a fretboard with the best of 'em, his guitar prowess seems at odds with the mostly middle-of-the-road fare that constitutes his catalogue.
Case in point: Mayer started his set with the slow-burner Belief, with its lyrical references to folded flags inside mother's hands. The song was a taste of the older, more assured Mayer, but was followed immediately by his earliest hit No Such Thing, a twee pop ditty about getting revenge on the prom queen by growing up to be ... a rock star.
Mayer gave his pipes a bit of a workout with the comparatively up-tempo Good Love Is On the Way (sounding eerily like Phil Collins, and we mean that as a compliment), and even took a bit of a jab at himself -- or the similarity of some of his work, anyway -- before launching into Something's Missing.
"This is one of those songs I haven't played in a while," he smiled. "It's also one of those songs I always want to write, before realizing damnit, I already did."
We realize it's tough to wring too much excitement out of a show when you traffic chiefly in slow songs, but there were definite stand-outs in Mayer's set: the Ray Charles cover I Don't Need No Doctor, the unadorned love song Heart of Life, and especially the social anthem Waiting On the World To Change, which sounds like something Marvin Gaye or Al Green might have cooked up back in the day.
All three numbers suggest Mayer is assured a long musical future, no matter which path -- or paths, as is more likely -- he chooses to take.
Now, there was no word on whether Mayer's girlfriend Jessica Simpson was in town with him, but earlier in the evening, the equally lovely Kathleen Edwards treated the crowd to 45 minutes of lilting, laid back numbers from her acclaimed albums Failer and Back To Me.