MANSFIELD — Very near the end of Saturday’s performance, John Mayer thanked the Comcast Center audience for following him into what he referred to as “Phase Two” of his career. He defined that as “playing guitar and singing for us,” punctuating that final word with a gesture that encompassed the whole crowd. Mayer was so comfortable with Phase Two, in fact, that he could dump major hits like “Say,” “Daughters,” and the career-launching “Your Body Is a Wonderland” from his set and not worry about his fans revolting.
That’s partly because there’s not just one Mayer but three: the sensitive coffee shop strummer, the bluesy Berklee alum, and the recently minted purveyor of California rock. The latter largely dominated, with peaceful, easy train-track rhythms, country-accented picking, and the airy whine of pedal steel guitar. The backdrop of a rocky desert outcropping just after dusk reinforced the vibe.
Even though he had a new album, “Paradise Valley,” just days away from release, Mayer only played three of its songs, including the bouncing, slightly jumping stomp of “Wildfire,” with its guitar lick shedding clean, crisp notes.
Instead, it seemed more like he was wrapping up last year’s “Born and Raised,” which provided the dark, snapping skip of “If I Ever Get Around to Living,” the soft, percussive chord riffs of “Something Like Olivia,” and the slow swell and retreat of the fine title track.
But Mayer could also shift to something more soulful, sometimes within the course of a single song: His cover of “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” began with the clean, precise bends of country before reaching a coda solo that recalled Jimi Hendrix’s floating, aggressive lyricism. Despite Mayer’s now-infamous facial contortions, he made playing guitar look nearly effortless even when reaching a full boil in “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” Most of his songs seemed designed to build up to big solos; some didn’t do much more. But the ones that did, like light-as-a-feather closer “Gravity,” made Mayer seem worth following wherever he wants to go.
If Phillip Phillips resembled Dave Matthews during his victorious run on “American Idol,” he was straight-up channeling him as Mayer’s opening act. It resulted in an overly busy breed of prog-folk that turned Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” into a grand, floppy grumble. But “Home” remained a rousing arena stomp that belied its status as an “Idol” coronation song.Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.