Mayer Gets by on His Looks, But Crow Transcends Hers

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Call it the Beauty and the Other Beauty Tour. John Mayer, the doe-eyed, cred- obsessed blues-popsmith, is touring with perennial Grammy queen Sheryl Crow, the two stars trading the headliner slot each night. At Nissan Pavilion Monday, this worked out to 75 minutes of Mayer followed by 90 of Crow.

Despite the omission of his breakthrough hit, "Your Body Is a Wonderland," Mayer had the ladies in his pocket from the moment he strode onstage, and more than a few fellas may have been won over by his muscular guitar work on tunes such as "Vultures" and "Gravity." But the screams that greeted the four songs from his as-yet-unreleased "Continuum" album (including the single "Waiting on the World to Change," which ought to have caught the attention of the legal team representing the estate of Curtis Mayfield) suggested the crowd was responding to something other than the music. Good as Mayer's band is, eight musicians onstage sound like at least three too many for the stripped-down neo-roots vibe he seems to want. He also hasn't quite figured out how to work the big rooms yet, leaving the veteran Crow to take command of the venue.

Crow played most of her ubiquitous '90s hits, including "All I Wanna Do" and "Strong Enough." But what reminded us that she's the real thing was her inclusion of worthy album cuts such the political ballad "Home" and "Mississippi" (which Bob Dylan gave her for her 1998 "Globe Sessions" LP before recording it for his own "Love and Theft" in 2001.)

Her 21st-century catalogue got less representation: Only two songs from last year's "Wildflower" made the set, though "Real Gone," her guilty-pleasure stomp from the "Cars" soundtrack ("We didn't see [the movie], either," she joked), was one of the night's best performances.

Crow, who has just returned to performing after a bout with breast cancer earlier this year, seemed to be working awfully hard at times to make it look effortless. Her voice was tentative enough in the early numbers that it almost seemed like a call for backup when she brought Mayer up to play on "My Favorite Mistake." But by the time she wailed her way through a gloriously raunchy closing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll," there was no doubt Crow is a survivor.

-- Chris Klimek

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