Mayer Hawthorne at First Avenue, 5/18/12
Mayer Hawthorne and the County
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
Friday, May 18, 2012
Mayer Hawthorne is nothing if not a showman. Decked out in a svelte black sport coat, bowtie, and some pretty extreme red kicks, the bespectacled heir apparent of Motown soul took the stage at Friday night's sold-out First Avenue show to a roaring crowd.
Hawthorne's four-piece backing band the County was similarly outfitted in matching three-piece grey suits, and they took their places on a stage with red velvet accents and a giant "M" and "H" separated by an electric red split heart. It was quite the "throwback" ensemble, set up to reflect the '60s-era synchronization that inspires Hawthorne's sound. Guitarist Christian Wunderlich and bass player Joe Abrams flanked Hawthorne and swayed in step with most songs while Hawthorne's sugar-sweet falsetto soared. Keyboardist Quincy McCrary and drummer Quentin Joseph were elevated behind them, and Hawthorne wasn't shy about getting all up in in their spaces and took the opportunity to help Joseph out with the cymbals at a few points. The setup was little gimmicky, maybe, but it worked.
Photo by Natalie Gallagher
It's like this: Mayer Hawthorne is a fascinating merger of a few very popular things in contemporary music of the moment. He's got that "retro" thing that pop-lovers are dying to sink their teeth into in the wake of Amy Winehouse and Adele, and he does it exceptionally well, and in his own way; it doesn't take much to make a listener swoon, especially on a smooth lover song like "Shiny & New." He's catchy, from the standout jaded love ballad "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" to the irresistibly feel-good "Henny and Gingerale." His songs at once sound so familiar that new listeners might mistake them for an old tune time made fuzzy in their memory, while there's traces of hip-hop influences (where Hawthorne got his start) lining the R&B styling. That's all part of Hawthorne's charm -- that, and the smooth moves and snazzy outfit. And Hawthorne knows it.
For all that, Hawthorne is irreverently tongue-in-cheek. While he has all the appearances of a "soul revivalist" (as he is so often referred to), he is very much a modern man. His first line of greeting to the crowd after the opening song: "Let's just be clear about this right now: If you're smoking that skunk, I want you up front. If you're smoking that crack, get your ass to the back!" About halfway through the 90-minute set, Hawthorne halted things for "picture time."
"All right, everyone pull out your iPhones," he cheekily ordered the crowd before strutting around the stage and posturing with his band for some memorable concert stills. After a few minutes, Hawthorne wrapped it up. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, picture time is over. We're gonna try something innovative right now... We're gonna pretend like we're actually at the show! So put your iPhones in your pockets and let's party!"
To his point, the party is exactly what Hawthorne was out to deliver. More than reviving a specific musical era, he's an artist that is actively endeavoring to revive a time when music fans weren't distracting themselves from the experience of a show by making the show way too fun to miss.
Hawthorne may sound like he was plucked out of a 1965 baby blue sky, but he's got a very new-school vibe. Amidst a background of gorgeous melodies and horns, he'll complain about his girl's "shitty fuckin' attitude" ("The Walk"). When the encore rolls around, Hawthorne doesn't just sing about how Hennessy and gingerale never fails--he'll pour you a stiff drink and cheers you for it.
Critic's Bias: Mayer Hawthorne sounds like summer lovin' to me. He literally makes me want to rent a fancy old-fashioned convertible and zip down a highway lining a beach. Why bother resisting that? Sometimes it's just easy to like an artist.
The Crowd: Mixed. Young hipsters, sophisticated late twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings who were decidedly not hipsters, and a crop of silver-haired fans who were probably introduced to Mayer Hawthorne through KS95 and might have been surprised by his youthful, cocky swagger.
Overheard in the Crowd: "That guitar riff right there just got his skinny ass laid tonight." Presumably said about Wunderlich, who did, indeed, have multiple impressive shredding opportunities to make girls scream and guys jealous.
Random Notebook Dump: So, in the middle of Hawthorne's very ballad-y "Shiny & New," some douchebags decided to have a throw-down over something assumedly douche-y. Seriously, who gets into a fight during a Mayer Hawthorne concert?
Set list: So, this was a really long set, and I tried super hard to take good notes for the set list, but I was also frequently distracted by a lot of other factors (fighting, synchronized dancing, flashing lights, etc). If anyone can fill in the gaps in this set list, please do so in the comments.
You Called Me
Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'
One Track Mind
Do My Thing (Busta Rhymes cover, chorus only harmony)
Love In Motion
Shiny & New
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall & Oates cover)
A Long Time
Green Eyed Love
A Strange Arrangement
Maybe So, Maybe No
Henny & Gingerale
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.