Mid-State Fair

Hits and riffs, old and new: John Mayer delivers at the Mid-State Fair

John Mayer is one of those rare musicians who sounds even better live than he does on a recording.

The seven-time Grammy Award winner certainly didn’t need any added production Monday night, when he gave his third California Mid-State Fair performance — he played the venue previously in 2008 and 2013.

“This is our third summer night together,” the singer-songwriter said to the crowd after playing his first two songs.

The stop, part of Mayer’s tour promoting his new album, “The Search for Everything,” didn’t disappoint — it’s tough to match his smooth vocals and insane guitar riffs.

Mayer kicked off the show with “Helpless,” a new song, and followed it with one of his biggest hits, “Waiting On the World to Change.” The rest of the show progressed similarly, with Mayer mixing his new stuff with hits and older material.

He seemed to genuinely enjoy the venue and crowd, even commenting at one point on the “cool California evening breeze,” which he said brought with it the smell of diesel fuel, marijuana and baby back ribs.

Nearly every song included a sustained guitar solo, making me wish I knew more about the technical aspects of Mayer’s performance so I could describe it better. Needless to say, it was really good. I may have come away with more of an appreciation for Mayer’s guitar skills than his singing, which was also great.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life listening to Mayer. It’s easy to forget the 39-year-old has been a big name since “Room for Squares” came out in 2001. Since then, he’s been a fixture on Top 40 radio and magazine covers — if he didn’t have a hit single, he was dating another famous person or giving weird interviews to “Rolling Stone.”

But his one constant has been solid music, which followed me through my formative years. “Waiting On the World to Change” seemed to play for a full year on my car radio in high school, and Mayer’s hits peppered my Pandora station all through college.

So, it was fun to hear the backstories Mayer provided before delving into many of his songs.

He described “Dear Marie,” from his 2013 album “Paradise Valley” (my personal favorite), as an ode to his high school sweetheart, the only woman he dated before he “made a name for (himself).” He called “Who Says,” a single from his 2009 record “Battle Studies,” “a love letter to the D-chord.”

But Mayer got the biggest crowd reaction when he came back to his hits, including “Daughters,” “Why Georgia” and “Your Body Is a Wonderland.”

It’s always interesting to hear artists discuss the hits that made them famous, but don’t really reflect their aesthetic decades later. Mayer struck a self-aware tone just before playing “Wonderland,” one of his most popular but also most-maligned songs.

“I wrote this song a long time ago,” he said. “I loved it, and then I hated it, and now I love it again. Because it’s a time capsule.”

Mayer ended the show with two encores — “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” and “Gravity” — capping off a great concert from an artist I hope returns to the fair for a fourth show someday.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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