There’s some words to describe Mayer Hawthorne at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night: Swagger. Fresh. Showmanship. Fly-as-hell. This is a guy who knows how to stoke whatever flame he has going for himself. And when that flame is super big to begin with – getting it stoked is a huge accomplishment. Did you know that Mayer Hawthorne is merely this dude’s porno name? Meaning: It is his middle name (raised as Andrew Mayer Cohen) and the street he grew up on (Hawthorne). When a guy comes to the stage with enough confidence to go by this kind of name, you know it is something special.
Mayer’s backing band, The County, compliment his show and his enormous presence so well. When your band comes out on stage ahead of you, all dressed in matching red cardigans, white shirts and straight, black ties, that says something about what the crowd can come to expect. Then Mr. Hawthorne steps out in his gray suit and red tie and starts jamming to “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’,” and the bright lights with the initials M and H start flashing behind the band, and we all melt. MELT! It is like going back in time and going to a 1960s sock hop. In a good way.
A Strange Arrangement was one of the best records of 2009. I knew it. Justin Timberlake knew it. You probably knew it. And the reason we all knew it was because it was a jammin’ jammity soul record from a dude who grew up just outside the entire Motown scene (Mayer is from Ann Arbor, a skip away from Detroit proper), and had all of the rebellion and party vibes of something like “Dancing in the Streets” in every single song. Sure, there are no Detroit race riots today like there were back then, but that doesn’t mean that these tracks aren’t maybe as subversive and maybe just as influentially funky as the jams that were coming out then.
In all honesty, this was one of the best shows I have seen this year. I cannot stress enough how much I love the confidence and presence The County give off as a band. These guys could play anything from a tiny basement show to a sold out arena and still bring it as hard as possible – and still be just as amazingly humble. This means anything from a ripping keyboard solo to a bobbing-headed bass player to any other single thing that happened on stage last night.
A definitive highlight of the night was “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.” A copy of the heart-shaped 7” sat on stage the whole time, so I, for one, was not super surprised when this got pulled out during the performance of his first single. He threw out the vinyl single to the crowd – to a group of girls who caught it like they were catching a bouquet at a wedding. Swoon! It was sort of a nod to old school showmanship.
I can only wish for every band I see live to be as referential and self-aware and into partying as Mayer Hawthorne and The County. But in actuality, it seems like most bands don’t have the same sense of history, combined with a sense of party, combined with a sense of sexy intuition that these dudes have. And maybe that’s what makes everything these guys do so impressive.
I couldn’t find any video from last night’s show, but here is the video for “Your Easy Lovin’,” which is pretty sexy.