AUBURN HILLS, Michigan — Those who feared [artist id=”1220799″]John Mayer[/artist] would zip his lip and let his guitar do the talking in the wake of Playboy-gate needn’t have worried.
During Mayer’s Battle Studies Tour stop Friday night (February 12) at the Palace of Auburn Hills in suburban Detroit, the embattled singer talked — and talked and talked — from the stage, but not about Jessica “Sexual Napalm” Simpson, his affinity for pornography or the racist and homosexual slurs in the Playboy interview that landed him in hot water earlier this week. Instead, Mayer mused about VH1 Classic, the 1970s and Sylvester Stallone — namely “Over the Top,” 1987’s Stallone-starring arm-wrestling epic.
“Me taking off my jacket, you understand, is sort of like Sylvester Stallone turning his hat around in ‘Over the Top,’ ” Mayer told the crowd of 12,000, after removing the black jacket he wore during the first couple of songs of Friday’s show. “You know, like Sylvester Stallone says in ‘Over the Top,’ one movie in a giant string of arm-wrestling movies. That’s when you know Hollywood was flush with cash. Somebody walked in and said, ‘I got an idea, you take Stallone … ‘ they’re like, ‘Sold. Wait, hold on, what’s he doing?’ ‘He’s arm wrestling.’ ‘Double sold. Let’s do it.’ ”
The off-the-cuff riff felt like Mayer trying out new stand-up material, as he wondered aloud if anyone actually uttered the words “Over the Top” in the film. Basically, he seemed like he was back to his jokey, irreverent self, and he let his onstage apology in Nashville on Wednesday — and his tweeted apologies the same day — speak for themselves.
Mayer, backed by his five-piece band and two backup singers, opened the two-hour concert with “Heartbreak Warfare,” his current single, and continued through a host of material from Battle Studies and his previous efforts. Covers of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” were added into the mix, and a mid-show run-through of his very first single, “No Such Thing,” was performed acoustically — “How I used to play it at coffee shops,” he said.
If so desired, plenty could be read into the video screens behind Mayer that projected a blazing wall of fire or lyrics such as “I’ll come through, like I do when the world keeps testing me, testing me, testing me” (from “Vultures”). But through his lighthearted stage banter and sincere thank-yous to the crowd for spending their Friday evening with him, he seemed doggedly determined to move forward from the controversy.
Kara Dubay of Rochester Hills, Michigan, didn’t mind spending her Friday with Mayer and wasn’t concerned about his comments from the Playboy interview. “I don’t care what he does in his personal life, really,” the 19-year-old college student said. “I like him for his music, so I don’t think [his personal life] is anyone’s business.”
David Trierweiler of Grand Rapids, Michigan, said he thought Mayer’s comments in the Playboy article were lost in translation. “I think he meant well, it just came across wrong,” said Trierweiler, 22. “By no means did he mean to say anything against anyone else.”
Katelyn Van Slyke, a graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, agreed. “I think that everyone takes what he says way too seriously. Everything he says is like a joke with himself. He’s a funny guy.”
She said Friday’s concert and the warm reception he received from the 80 percent capacity crowd proved he can move past the negativity caused by the racy interview. “He can move on from it. He’s a weird guy, and his personality goes into his music, that’s what makes him so unique,” she said. “He apologized, and I don’t think he’s a bad guy. He’s just taken way too seriously.”