Over the past year or so, singer/songwriter John Mayer has risen through the ranks from relative unknown to pop phenomenon, picking up a double platinum album and two Grammy nominations along the way. He's also gained a rep as a great live performer, with his appealing voice, everyguy persona and cleverly written songs. "Any Given Thursday" is a recording of one of John's perfromances in Birmingham, Alabama, taking place on Thursday 9/12/02. Containing almost all the songs from John's breakthrough "Room For Squares" album, as well as a couple covers and unreleased tracks, this collection (and it's companion DVD) are a worthwhile purchase for any Mayer fan.
None of the songs from "Room For Squares" vary too much from their original versions. John's band is skilled enough to be able to replicate the original arrangements. Some of the songs are stretched out a bit to allow for some Dave Matthews-style jamming, and John does quite a bit of guitar noodling at the beginning of some songs to set a mood. He's a pretty skilled guitarist, handling electric and acoustic guitar duties, depending on the song.
One of "Squares"' best songs, "Back To You" is introduced by John as "a song about 8th chances, 9th chances, even chances into the double digits", and concludes with a furious guitar jam at the end. John's guitar resonates on certain tracks even more than his occasionally muffled voice ddoes. This is most apparent on the new track "Something's Missing", a downtempo track with a somber guitar riff running through it. The song sounds sad, even if you can't quite understand what the lyrics are about.
The audience is relatively subdued, saving most of the screams and applause for John's three hit singles-"No Such Thing", "Your Body is a Wonderland" and "Why Georgia". The audience even chips in by singing the bridge to "Why Georgia" without John's accompaniment.
Some of the album's high points are the covers. John integrates blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray vaughan's instrumental "Lenny" into the winsome ballad "Man on the Side" and turns it into a showcase for John's own talented guitar work. He also manages to slow The Police's "Message in a Bottle" down half a step on his cover version, bringing a more mournful quality out to suit the somber lyrics.
While the whole performance is good, it takes a sharp uptick in quality towards the end. John's rumination on childhood, "83", is livened up by John's incorporation of the classics "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and "Let's Hear it For the Boy" into the end of the song. (Curiously, however, both of these songs were hits in 1984.) He then encores with the jazz/blues/rock gem "Neon", easily "Room For Squares" best track. The song turns into a lengthy instrumental jam, serving as a perfect capper to the night's concert.
I'm usually not crazy about live albums, and this album is fairly unnecessary if you have "Room For Squares". But if you're a John Mayer-head (as I am turning into), you will enjoy this engaging live document from a talented singer/songwriter.
Overall rating: 3 stars (bumped up to 3 1/2 for John Mayer fans)
Key tracks: "Back To You", "83", "Something's Missing"