In 2009 Mayer Hawthorne released his debut album A Strange Arrangement. At the time he was opening for bands like Passion Pit and was signed to the independent Stones Throw Records. Fast forward three years, add in a record deal with Universal, and suddenly the same guy from Ann Arbor Michigan is selling out venues across the country.
A neo-soul artist with charismatic style and a smooth falsetto is not hard to come by, but a white 33 year old ex hip-hop DJ from Michigan turned Motown artist becomes more of an anomaly. Mayer Hawthorne’s popularity seems to only double by the day. Appearing out of thin air three years ago, Hawthorne has since been acting like he was born wearing a bow tie. A student of style, the singer has always emphasized the importance of aesthetics. Whether it’s releasing his first single in a red heart-shaped vinyl, covering Tony Bennet to the images of skateboarders in San Francisco, or managing to pair any sneaker to the most formal of outfits, Hawthorne is clearly hip to the beat. On June 16th Mayer Hawthorne and The County brought their catchy tunes and flashy suits to the Fillmore in San Francisco, this time as headliners.
The box office outside read, “sold out” in large bold letters. A lady claiming to have come all the way from England for the show garnered the suspicious sympathies from the people working the booth. Upon entering the narrow doors of the Fillmore, individuals with sport coats and ties peppered the lobby under the watchful eye of a great portrait of Jerry Garcia. The stage had the letters M and H in the background with a broken-heart logo in the middle. Though dark, everything seemed to have the captivating potential to get very bright and happy.
Sporting a body-hugging tux and red patent leather shoes, Hawhtorne came out with style. The production was designed down to the smallest detail. A tufted black leather club chair adorned the stage. The broken-heart logo beamed to the rhythm of the music. All wardrobe followed a strict color scheme of black, red, and white, and instruments were no exemption. Showing off a big smile, there was no doubt Hawthorne had a hand in all of this.
His syrupy high tenor voice complimented his rendition of Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out of My Life, Woman” perfectly. The sounds of Van McCoy and Curtis Mayfield are at the center of “You Called Me.” Fully versed in the classics, Hawthorne’s biggest dilemma seems to be choosing which tune to remix with his song. Today he drops a reference to The Delfonics and Mel & Tim, tomorrow perhaps The Rascals. His rendition of “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates found common ground with all those at the Fillmore that night — it’s a seamless addition to his repertoire.
In perfect synchronization the band members leaned forward and back, rocking in the style of classic American vocal groups like The Temptations. Amid the choreography lied a sense of free flowing breathability within the music — the feeling that what we’re hearing is spontaneous and soulful. Ironically the thing that kept the night from feeling like a blast from the past was Hawthorne himself. His suave unthreatening quality and personal anecdotes are easy to relate to. His flashy Nike sneakers are a reminder of our time. As strong as he portrays the broken-hearted lover-boy in his songs, it’s no secret that his persona is as sincere as it is nostalgic. Upon taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, the slender singer looked like an old time waiter at an ice-cream parlor. He later returns with a red dinner jacket, channeling the charm of Hugh Hefner and “Mad Men.”
The well paced performance brought the announcement of the evenings last song as a surprise. During Hawthorne’s usual closer, the up-tempoed “The Ills,” the crowd turned the wooden floors of the Fillmore into a virtual trampoline. After a short encore, Mayer Hawthorne and The County came out to perform “Hooked,” the evenings true finale, later exiting to the theme song of The Price is Right. Hawthorne’s originality is never questioned, any deficiency is outweighed by style, charm and plain good music.