The recession may be over, at least according to economists, but don’t tell that to the music industry. The John Mayer and Counting Crows double bill that pulled into Staples Center Thursday night is the type of show designed for lean times: Take two acts (one rising, the other on a downward slide) who could probably do respectable business on the shed circuit on their own, couple them up, book them into arenas and keep the prices reasonable. It’s smart business, as the near-sellout crowd proved.
Mayer, who closed the show, was clearly the crowd favorite. He’s made the transition to arenas without giving up the essential decency that made him such an appealing club attraction. Scanning the empty seats and lines in the aisles when he returned for his encore, he didn’t complain; he thanked those who stayed, letting them know he appreciated that by hanging out until the final note, his fans will be “sucking exhaust for the next hour.” Incredibly, the move to headliner status has reined in his self-indulgence: The long, semi-improvised cover/solo that was always the least engaging part of his club dates has been mothballed.
He hasn’t jettisoned his guitar flash; it’s just better integrated into the set (Thursday night’s was 75 minutes). Only on “Come Back 2 Bed” (from his upcoming sophomore release, “Heavier Things,” due on Columbia Records Sept. 9) did his soloing extend into jam-band territory. When combined with his square-jawed Abercrombie & Fitch good looks, his instrumental prowess makes him a potent concert draw. While the young women in attendance squealed at Mayer’s every move, their dates — the kind of serious young men who don’t usually countenance such girly favorites — commented approvingly after every solo. It’s the same sort of aud that powered Peter Frampton to the top of the charts 30 years ago; if he keeps up his momentum, next up on disc could be “Mayer Comes Alive.”
Counting Crows, on the other hand, appear to have lost whatever momentum (or inspiration) they achieved with 1993’s “Mr. Jones.” One thing front man Adam Duritz hasn’t changed is his dreadlocked haircut, the silliest rock star tonsure since A Flock of Seagulls. But it has more personality than the band’s material, a lumpy melange of classic-rock cliches. “Goodnight, L.A.” (from recent Universal release “Hard Candy”) was introduced by Duritz as a lullaby, and it was nice to know that at least one of the songs was intended to put you to sleep; the rest of the hourlong set must come by its somnolent quality naturally.