It’s easy to imagine that somewhere off the Sunset Strip, hidden away from clubs like the Viper Room, Whisky and Roxy, the rusted hulks of bands once heralded as the next big thing gather in a kind of rock ‘n’ roll elephant’s graveyard. But every now and then, a performer manages to fly in under the radar and make a direct connection with listeners. John Mayer is the latest example.
The Atlanta-based singer-songwriter sold out the Roxy Friday night, even though his debut album “Room for Squares” (Aware/Columbia) has been in wide release for only two weeks (a slightly different, independently released version came out earlier this year). And it wasn’t a jaded industry crowd; the collegiate aud was enthusiastic, singing along with the personable, darkly boyish musician.
What got them so excited was a brand of frat rock that has taken Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Matthews to the top of the charts. Mayer delivers gently swelling anthems like “1983” and “No Such Thing” in an urgent rasp, recalling the aforementioned Matthews or Sting (“Great Indoors” is built on the same chords as “Every Breath You Take”). It’s not edgy or cool, but perhaps comforting, familiar music like this is what listeners crave in uncertain times.
The only misstep in this 90-minute show was a mid-set solo outing. With the chance to showcase his instrumental prowess, Mayer demonstrated a facile grace, mixing clotted, Jimi Hendrix styled blasts with bluesy runs influenced by Wes Montgomery and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But his offering up covers of Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary” and Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” alongside originals such as “3×5” was ultimately self-indulgent. Mayer’s abilities were better showcased when he and rhythm guitarist Matt Mangano cut loose on “Neon.”