MTS Centre, Winnipeg - April 7, 2010

DARRYL STERDAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It seems John Mayer has finally learned to shut up and play his guitar. Too bad.

Don't get me wrong — I really don't want to hear the 32-year-old singer-songwriter using racial epithets and running off at the mouth about Jessica Simpson's sexual napalm any more than you do. But I have to admit, it sure would have livened up his concert at MTS Centre Wednesday night.

Instead, some 6,500 fans (mostly young women and couples) got John Mayer: Serious, sincere musician. Like anybody really needs that.

This is not to suggest that Mayer doesn't have some serious abilities. Far from it. He's a very talented dude. He's a highly skilled guitarist (if not an especially innovative one). He's a decent vocalist (though hardly a world-class talent). He's certainly got a way with a pleasant pop-rock melody and a romantic lyric. And every now and then, he cranks up and cuts loose with some high-energy funk and rock.

Trouble is, this wasn't one of those nights. Despite being surrounded by a stellar quintet anchored by veteran drummer / producer Steve Jordan and former Pretenders / Paul McCartney guitarist Robbie McIntosh, Mayer spent most of the evening playing it safe as milk, staying well within his comfort zone of blue-eyed soul and tastefully stylish pop.

Speaking of stylish: The 105-minute set opened with the entire stage wrapped floor to ceiling in a sheer white curtain. As films were projected onto the mosquito net-like surface from the front and sides, Mayer — monochromatically attired in black leather jacket, cargo pants and V-neck T-shirt — eased into the gently flowing groove of Heartbreak Warfare, the leadoff track from last year's Battle Studies CD. Behind him was the standard giant video screen for nifty graphics and live footage of his clean-cut mug and tattooed arms. Above him were concentric circular trusses holding high-tech lights that moved in circles over the set — and rose and fell gracefully while doing so. At the sides of the polished black stage were the usual ramps and risers. All in all, your typical arena concert digs.

Ultimately, though, the show Mayer gave would have been far better suited to a soft-seat theatre than a hockey rink. Aside from a handful of energetic moments — notably the wah-wah licks of Good Love is On the Way, the slowly building rock (and starkly striking lighting) of Assassin and an instrumental jam during Jordan's funky-drummer solo — there was little excitement during the 15-song set. Vultures offered up slow-burning blues. Perfectly Lonely was perfectly lovely with its slinky soul guitars. The Grammy winner Waiting on the World to Change was the biggest hit of the evening — unless you count the fact that he tossed bits of Simon and Garfunkel, Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac into some numbers. Yeah, it was vaguely interesting. But not enough to keep the video cameras from catching people yawning in the audience now and then.

The other potentially interesting moment came when would-be comedian Mayer — whose only comments up until that point had been of the 'How are you doing?' and 'Are you having fun?' variety — started rambling a bit near the end of the show. Here we go, I thought. But no. He just made some limp jokes about his keyboard player's pinky ring, then thanked everybody for buying a ticket. The closest he came to acknowledging his recent controversy came when he noted that even when he's had a bad day, he still gets "to come up here and play guitar." Sure. But where's the fun in that for us?

Truth is, there was nothing especially wrong with Mayer's show. There just wasn't anything especially inspired about it either. By the time the encore rolled around and he got to the line in Who Cares that goes, "it's been a long night," well, it felt like it. I don't think I was alone in that assessment; by that point, a steady stream of folks were already heading for the exits. I couldn't blame them. Let's face it: When you get to the end of your set and it looks like you haven't even broken a sweat, you aren't trying hard enough. And when it looks like your drummer hasn't even broken a sweat, you're definitely doing something wrong.

Next time, dude, I recommend more rock. And more talk.


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