Riverbend Music Center - Cincinnati, Ohio - September 5, 2006 - 2

Crow, Mayer a good team


MANASSAS Sheryl Crow and John Mayer are an ideal touring pair -- both immensely gifted songwriters and musicians, both able to channel their musicianship into meaty albums yet still attract the soccer moms permanently tuned to FM-light

Crow has endured a particularly rough year with her public breakup with Lance Armstrong and breast cancer diagnosis (she's now in the clear). But eight shows into a tour that runs through mid-October, she looked fabulous -- thin but taut -- and the giant smile affixed to her face throughout her 80-minute set indicated her enjoyment being back onstage.

Still ostensibly touring behind last year's subdued "Wildflower" album, Crow doesn't have anything truly new to promote, and occasionally, her performance seemed like an excuse to trot out her extensive list of overplayed hits. That doesn't mean they weren't presented exceptionally well, with Crow alternating among acoustic and electric guitar and bass and her four-piece band blending seamlessly with a cool string quartet.

Crow is a savvy artist who realizes that while the masses will still bolt to their feet to shout along with yet another rendition of "All I Wanna Do," her most loyal fans deserve a deeper dip into the catalog. So along with the expected "Soak Up the Sun" and "A Change Will Do You Good" came the appearance of the bouncy folk-pop ditty "Mississippi," preceded by an amusing anecdote about Bob Dylan, who wrote the song, as well as a sincere version of the peace-seeking ballad "Redemption Day."

A couple of other small bonuses: The melancholy "Home" -- not often on the set list -- resonated with its hushed darkness and an injected snippet of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown." Also, opener Mayer returned in his cargo pants and hoodie to grind out a supple solo during "My Favorite Mistake," a song supposedly written about one-time Crow paramour Eric Clapton, a longtime idol of Mayer's. Funny how life is sometimes.

While Crow stuck with the familiar or, in the case of "Real Gone" from the "Cars" soundtrack, the forgettable, Mayer debuted several tunes from his "Continuum" album, in stores a week from today.

After his opening double punch of "Why Georgia" and "Bigger Than My Body," Mayer, who had no issues hitting the high notes, unfurled the sultry blues licks of "Belief," a contemporary song with an old soul.

Mayer, 28, is the thinking girl's fox, lanky and soulful and tousled, but more important, talented and bright -- though his current romantic interest is questionable. He's also as interesting to watch as he is to listen to, his face contorting like a malleable mask, his mouth stretching as if made of Silly Putty

And though he doesn't require such superb help, Mayer has enlisted guitarist Robbie McIntosh (The Pretenders, Paul McCartney) for backup, even allowing the renowned player to strip the schmaltz from the Grammy-winning "Daughters" with some tasteful slide guitar.

As a guitarist, Mayer is quietly catching up to some of his heroes, even if, in the case of "Waiting on the World to Change" and "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," he nicks a bit too closely from the Curtis Mayfield songbook. But considering that the bulk of Mayer's audience is composed of youngish girls who regularly flock to mindless Top 40 fluff, at least his muscular songs are providing an education in real music.

"Thank you so much for listening to stuff you don't know," Mayer told the crowd of about 12,000 toward the end of his 75-minute set. A humble sentiment, but really, the crowd should have been thanking him.

Contact staff writer Melissa Ruggieri at mruggieri@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-612.

Source: timesdispatch.com