In celebration of the release of John Mayer‘s fantastic new album Born And Raised, MEB’s unleashed a slew of content ranging from retrospective reviews of all of his records to articles highlighting specific songs to (well, duh) a review of Born And Raised. For the 3 Of The Week column, I thought it would be good to focus on an element of John Mayer that won’t be seeing a great deal of attention otherwise: his live performances. Arguably the best aspect of his career, John Mayer has put out a pretty large selection of live recordings over the years, allowing his emotional and powerful shows to be heard anytime. The three songs I chose include a song that only appears on a live release, my personal favorite John Mayer track, and an older cut that still hits hard. Once you’ve finished listening to the new record, come back to these for a bit, then repeat the process. You can’t go wrong, unless you’re watching him sing as you listen.
1. “In Your Atmosphere” – from Where The Light Is
Though no studio version of this song has been released, it’s become one of my favorite John Mayer tracks. Certainly one of the standouts from Where The Light Is, “In Your Atmosphere” is acoustic-based, featuring plenty of interesting guitar parts that make this a callback to his earliest work. The part that begins near the four-minute mark is a great example of how he’s able to add an extra bit of emotion through the lyrics that appear to be off the cuff and coming from somewhere real. The track features a tag towards the end that acts as a sort of second movement to the song to give the first room to sink in with somewhat related lyrical content. There’s a lot to love in this track, and I was honestly pretty disappointed that it didn’t find a home on Born And Raised, though it’s safe to say this version’s more than good enough to listen to repeatedly.
2. “Home Life” – from As/Is: Mountain View, CA – 7/16/04
The album this appears on is one of my favorite releases i’ve heard, an easy pick for the upper half of my top ten records. This song is a huge reason for why I love the album so much, and I might even go so far as to say that this recording is my favorite track that John Mayer has ever released. While I do enjoy the studio version found on Heavier Things, the weight an power of the song never really hit me quite until I heard this version. As is the case in all of the songs this week, it’s the extra lyrics that make this track really stick out. The exploratory interlude gives an even deeper meaning to the original version of the song, and is instantly relatable if you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship. There’s creative beauty in the music, clever beauty in the wordplay, and tragic beauty in the emotions that go into the former two. For me, this is exactly what I want out of everything John Mayer releases.
3. “Comfortable” – from Any Given Thursday
If I had to pick a standout from Inside Wants Out, “Comfortable” would be a strong contender. Of his live material, this performance is also pretty high up there. The song is incredibly intimate, which somehow still translates as he plays to thousands of fans. Among one of the oldest songs in his catalog (going back to the Lo-Fi Masters days), it’s also one of his most beloved. From the campfire-style acoustic guitar work to the reflective lyrics, the track fits its title perfectly. If you’ve heard “Comfortable” before, but not this recording, definitely take the time to listen. The last minute of this version is what makes this performance so moving, with the observational lines “that you were my first love was just dumb luck, a technicality, you were ahead of me” and the questioning “why’d I have to practice on you?” These aren’t the sort of things that are just written for the sake of being written, they actually mean something, and that’s where the power of this song comes from.