John Mayer: A Walk Down Memory Lane (Eddie’s Attic- Decatur, GA)
Some of you saw the heading for this piece on the home page and are only reading this out of some shade of anger and a darker shade of disbelief that a write up of John Mayer is being featured on the site. I mean, it’s an indie music site, right? Have we changed management? Nope, not at all. Very rarely, if ever, does the chance come along where you can be in a room with a hundred people and see a larger-than-life artist strip everything down until all that’s left are glasses of scotch, stories, and the smallest stage he’ll play this year shared by his band mates—a group whom Mayer notes he can’t believe would want to play his songs.
A couple months ago, I wrote a show review of Jeremy Messersmith and mentioned that my main motivation for going to the show wasn’t so much for the artist as it was for the opportunity to check out Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of seeing both the rising stars and fixtures of Atlanta’s true music scene, including Roxie Watson and Jackson County Line, sell out shows there. Each time, the atmosphere at Eddie’s is something special: it pulls a respect out of people. For as much as we love the Georgia music scene, we have to extend a deep gratitude to Eddie Owen (and others like him) who has established something that both fans and artists can appreciate.
With a handful of shows left on schedule, John Mayer set up an impromptu and unadvertised show at Eddie’s for late Tuesday night, after Jay Brannan’s show. The announcement for a special show later on in the evening came after Brannan’s set, while most people were heading for the doors. Eddie simply said that one more artist was playing and the cover charge was ten bucks.
It’s funny because I’ve always heard of these secret acoustic shows that happen, but never could figure out how to get “in the know.” I’m not engaged enough in Twitter to stalk artists’ tweets in hopes that maybe they’re playing a gig in Atlanta that no ones knows about until an hour before it starts (cue @johncmayer at 11 pm last night: “Atlanta people! Lets jam out at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur. 11:30pm. Heading over now.”). And while throngs of people did not show up last night (only a few hundred outside the doors downstairs), everyone in the place was there with an understanding: the night was for music, not for screaming and hyperventilating and squishing fans against the stage (that’s probably going on tonight at Aaron’s Amphitheatre for Mayer’s advertised show). Take away the thousands of fans, and you instantly create a friendship with the artists on stage. You see the bassist fist-bumping the guy at the nearest table and a crowd member coming up to help sing an old song (since it’s been a long night and a long time for Mayer and the fan has probably memorized every lyric of his since 1999).
The evening started with Mayer joined on stage by David Ryan Harris on guitar and Sean Hurley on bass. As the night progressed, Bob Reynolds joined in with the saxophone and Charlie Wilson on the piano. He prefaced the set by saying, “We’ll start simple and get stranger,” and thus began a steady journey into songs (some his, some David Ryan Harris’, and one Bill Withers’) and stories shared in between each one. It was completely manifest that the evening at Eddie’s was like coming home for Mayer. Although not born or raised in Atlanta, he got his start in music here playing the same venue ten years ago (as did Harris) and you could feel a history of nights crawling out of the floorboards and peeling themselves down off the walls.
Talking of his early days, Mayer said, “I don’t know if anybody maybe can relate to this or maybe you’re going through it, but that first place you live where you’re living on your own, you’ve got to figure all this sh*t out. There’s no bigger bed that you can run into and get into bed with mommy—you’re on your own. Which is fun at first but doesn’t last very long, and you’re just dealing with all of this… there’s all this freedom. I can go anywhere I want, but sh*t, I can go anywhere I want.”
As Tuesday night rolled into Wednesday morning, he sang “Assassin,“ “Friends, Lovers, Or Nothing,” and “Quiet” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” among others, and even Harris shared a couple of his own songs. Undoubtedly, the music was spot on—solos by Reynolds and Wilson garnered quite a bit of excitement and even Mayer hung a harmonica around his neck.
As the night was getting on, he shared what I found to be the most interesting story of the show, as he talked about the future of his music as he wraps up the tour for Battle Studies.
“I want to tell you a little bit about where I’m going, ‘cause I think it’s important since you guys are fans. I’ve done the pop thing as much as I can do the pop thing and I will be retiring for a couple years from the pop thing ‘cause I think I have some other shapes and colors that I need to get to. (audience claps) I know that was a weird thing for you ‘cause [you’re thinking] ‘I don’t want to clap too loud for that because you had good rhythms’ but I understand. I feel the same way. I would clap that way too. And um, so I’m going to go back to New York City and I’m going to drop out. I’m going to drop out. But I’m going to drop out for good reason… I think the world has a little too much me. I have too much me—I never meant to make that much me happen. I found the antidote to bullsh*t, it’s called Bob Dylan. You put it right into your chest and it makes Lady Gaga go right away… Look, I’ll back that up at two o’clock in the afternoon tomorrow if I have to.”
He went on to mention that a direction in folk music would be the likely successor after the predicted death of his pop music run. Who knows if this is true, but it is almost certain that he’ll grace this stage again, with a new set of songs and an old set of feelings that always emerge in this place. Before the last song of the night, Mayer shared a sobering and yet grateful outlook on the “beautiful flashback” he was having while on stage—no doubt recounting in his mind the places he’s been from beginning till now. He said, “I asked for everything. I did, in a way, sign off on everything, I said ‘Yeah, I’ll take it all.’ The good and the bad. Give me houses at the snap of a finger and give me relationships that fade in a heartbeat. And give me a bunch of money, and then give me a lot coming in and a lot going out. Give me hell and give me heaven at the same time. And I got it, you know, and I won’t complain about it. ‘Cause the heaven slightly outweighs the hell, which makes it worth it. And I think that’s everybody’s life.”
I think that, for me personally, when I can hear an artist appreciate something more than just themselves or where they are now, and truly give credit back to where they started and who it was with, it makes the music stand out. When you’re in such an intimate place, it feels like everything that’s being said is a secret, or something that will resonate in your life once you’ve gone home and the music’s no longer in your ears. Could have just been the words of a scotch-tamed tongue, but he ended the night singing “Why Georgia” and the voices of everyone in the room joining in.
Photos by Beth Yeckley