About an hour and a half before doors opened at Long Island's Jones Beach on Wednesday night, a Ben & Jerry's truck pulled into the parking lot to dole out free samples of Heath Bar and Milk and Cookies. The man doing the scooping: John Mayer, who came up with the idea two weeks ago as a surprise for his recently launched Battle Studies tour. He happily signed autographs and snapped photos with fans, even instructing his photographer to take a group shot from a perch on someone's car (check out video of his ice cream man adventure below).
"We had an idea of catering to the tailgating crowd, and the epitome of the sound of summer is ice cream truck bells," Michael McDonald, Mayer's manager of 11 years, told Rolling Stone before the show. "It'll pop up a few more times. It gives a random lucky few fans the ability to have that intimate moment [with Mayer] before they're in a crowd of 15,000." McDonald added that the guitarist likes to convey the spirit of the season with each tour, and his summer vibe is "very light, very airy and trying to have a lot of fun and give people a great night to remember."
Mayer kicked off his set with a handful of older tunes, including a groovy "Vultures," a buoyant "Clarity," and a light-hearted "Why Georgia." His seven-piece backing band was bolstered by the return of longtime horn player Bob Reynolds, whose blasts were a perfect foil for the guitarist's noodling.
As a light rain began to fall mid-show, Mayer told fans he was going to "bring this song out of the lockbox" before an impromptu take on an old live staple: the appropriately titled "Covered in Rain," which was so off the cuff, Mayer joked his band would have to improvise. He moved traditional set-closer "Gravity" to the middle of the show and gave Reynolds plenty of room to stretch out for an excellent solo. And he invited a seven year old named Avery onstage to dance during the breakdown in "Waiting on the World to Change." "I saw that kid moving like there wasn't enough room," Mayer told the crowd as they wildly cheered the feel-good moment.
At times the show had an unexpected '80s feel, thanks to Mayer's outfit (he channeled Blaine from Pretty in Pink with madras pants and collared shirt), his references to Say Anything's famous boom-box scene, and his selection of covers, which included snippets of the Police's "Wrapped Around Your Finger," Prince's "Raspberry Beret" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
"As things grow larger and larger, we try to make them feel more and more intimate, and as things go more mainstream we try to keep it more grassroots," McDonald told RS pre-show. For the encore, Mayer appeared on a pop-up stage in the middle of the crowd for a mini set featuring "Your Body is a Wonderland" (which has become endurable again thanks to Mayer's riffing during the bridge) and a gorgeous rendition of "L.A. Song" that had the whole crowd singing along as Mayer held court at the center.
Mayer wrapped the show with "Edge of Desire," a stripped-down cut from Battle Studies that comes off lovelorn on record but became an offbeat "thank you" to fans at the show. A video yearbook of Mayer's winter tour flashed on the screens and the band amped up the song's intensity, driving home the sentiment Mayer had told fans earlier in the night: "I've been playing music for 10 years and the dream come true never stopped presenting itself."