John Mayer

John Mayer

Any Given Thursday

Aware/Columbia

John Mayer is a dilemma. On the one hand, he’s the epitome of marketing savvy; a product harvested by the big bad corporate world of pop music and packaged into radio-friendly oblivion. He’s loved by shallow, preppy twenty-somethings (invariably female) and he sings about dating and high school. He’s good looking in a way that screams “slap me.” More than that, he’s young and naive, and he has little by way of back-catalogue to support his incredible ambition.

On the other hand, he’s a guitar-playing genius, he sings beautifully and distinctively and he writes great, catchy acoustic pop songs. So what’s a serious music critic to do? Admitting you like John Mayer is even worse than admitting you like Dashboard Confessional. But, like Dashboard, Mayer was critically adored when he was releasing music under the radar — it’s success and all the trappings that come with it (girls, get over it: you’re never going to date him, okay?) that have soured critical opinion.

With that in mind, Any Given Thursday is an enjoyable (if slightly nauseating) experience. A double disc live set (recorded in 2002 at the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Birmingham, Alabama), it’s punctuated with lots of girly screaming (when John speaks; when John plays one of the big singles; when John scratches himself) and assured onstage banter. Thankfully, though, this recording is mostly about the music. Mayer delivers a tight, energetic performance, storming through a luxuriously long set which covers most of the tracks from his two releases to date, Room for Squares and Inside Wants Out, and also includes the rarities “Something’s Missing” and “Covered in Rain.” There’s even a cover of the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” (it’s good, too).

Releasing a live disc is a ballsy move for any artist (okay, chances are Mayer didn’t even know about Any Given Thursday until Columbia sent him a copy, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). What this album proves is that Mayer actually can hold his own as a musician, and still has all the things that made him such a pleasure when Inside Wants Out was first released — precocious energy, great songs and (I hate to admit it, but) more than a little charm.

John Mayer: http://www.johnmayer.com/

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