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John Mayer shows off new music, renewed spirit before sold-out Sprint Center crowd

Special to the Star

Friday was a birthday of sorts for John Mayer: the official release date of “The Search for Everything,” his seventh studio album and his first in nearly four years. Mayer spent the night celebrating his new arrival with a sold-out crowd at the Sprint Center, his first show in Kansas City in more than seven years, and for more than two hours, he delivered a diverse mix of songs new and old in various ways: as part of a seven-piece band, as part of his trio and solo/acoustic.

Mayer took the stage with his full band, which included ace drummer Steve Jordan, the executive producer of “Search.” They opened with three of its tracks: “Helpless,” a breezy, guitar-driven pop-rock number; “Moving On and Getting Over,” an appealing mid-tempo pop song with an R&B vibe about heartache he can’t quite get over; and “Love on the Weekend,” a saccharine love ballad set to an engaging melody that gave his two backup singers a chance to lay down some tight harmonies. Like much of Mayer’s music, his new material is larded with polish and finesse but is pleasantly familiar, catchy and handsome but void of invention and risk.

They followed that with “Who Says,” a pop-blues ditty from his “Battle Studies” album, then “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” a slow-cooking blues/soul ballad about an ailing, failing romance.

That was the first of the show’s five chapters. The second was a three-song acoustic set, starting with “Daughters,” his gooey ballad about how to treat girls (ahem) and one of his earliest and biggest hits. His backup singers joined him for “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test,” which prompted the first widespread sing-along of the night, before Mayer delivered his well-known and reworked cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” Among the dozens of cover versions of that song, his stands out.

The stage was set with an enormous video screen that broadcast a variety of images. During the acoustic set, it showed a large, pastoral landscape – a garden, a bridge over a creek and mountains in the background. After the acoustic set, it played a video of Mayer talking about the history of his blues trio (Mayer, Jordan and stellar bassist Pino Palladino), who then joined him for a three-song set that included a cover of “Cross Road Blues.” As he did through most of the show, Mayer showed off the chops, tones and techniques for which he has earned well-deserved respect as a guitarist, even among detractors who can’t fall in line with his songwriting.

The full band joined him for another set that started with “Queen of California,” a fluffy pop-folk ballad with a heavy Laurel Canyon vibe from his “Born and Raised” album. Then came “Rosie,” a prototypical Mayer yacht-rock ballad: sweet-nothing lyrics set to an attractive melody and fetching groove.

He ended that set with one of his best-known songs, “Why Georgia,” which set off an uproarious sing-along and lots of dancing on the floor.

Mayer would give the big, overjoyed crowd three encores, including “Gravity,” a standout “Continuum” track that ignited another hearty sing-along, and his closer, “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me,” the closing track on “The Search” album, which he performed solo on a stage awash in white, including the piano he played.

The song is about redemption – “Life is full of sweet mistakes / And love’s an honest one to make” – which is the theme of the new album. Mayer plunged into hot water years ago over comments he made about women and ex-partners and subsequently retreated from the public life. This tour and his album signify his humble return. So as much as this show was about the official christening of new music, it was also about his rebirth.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

SET LIST

Helpless; Moving On and Getting Over; Love on the Weekend; Who Says; Slow Dancing in a Burning Room; Daughters; Walt Grace’s Submarine Test; Free Fallin’; Vultures; Who Did You Think I Was; Cross Road Blues; Queen of California; Rosie; Stop This Train; Still Feel Like Your Man; Why Georgia. The Heart of Life; Gravity; You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.

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