Donnelly: Mayer Hawthorne & The County at the Bottleneck

If you don’t know who Mayer Hawthorne is then you’re probably not quite as hipster as you thought you were…


Come back when you get some tighter pants and maybe grow out that ironic mustache for good measure.  Then maybe we can talk.  Maybe.     




It goes like this: a white kid from Detroit moves to L.A., starts spinning hip-hop records as DJ Haircut, then morphalizes into a porn-star-named soul singer called Mayer Hawthorne.




He meets Snoop Dogg and they like each other’s shit. DJ Jazzy Jeff remixes a few of his tracks. And Erykah Badu wants a piece of that, too.


So if you don’t know who Mayer Hawthorne is, you will soon.




I got to know Mayer and his band, the County, on Wednesday at the Bottleneck in Lawrence.  The County – drums, keys, guitar, and bass – wearing matching red cardigans and ties, took the stage first and vamped over a pre-recorded intro for a few moments until Mayer emerged in a three piece suit, looking like Rivers Cuomo’s little brother:      
“Is it okay if we get a little intimate?” Mayer asked.
“We were hoping you would say that,” thought the couple hundred hip, hip concertgoers.  As the County slid into some slinky and soulful R&B, Mayer shook a tambourine and let his smooth and clean falsetto take over.  Most of the hour-long set was off his 2009 debut, “A Strange Arrangement.”
Mayer and his band heavily emulate the sensitive soul sounds of Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield. Last night they took the receptive crowd’s hand and glided them gently through ballads like “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Green Eyed Love,” as well as the super-catchy “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.” 
On the more up-tempo numbers, all I could think of was Steely Dan – the smoothness of the vocals and the clean, clean harmonies coupled with deft arrangements and catchy hooks, complete with Walter Becker guitar chords and tones. Mayer confirmed my hunch when they worked in a great cover of the Doobie Brothers’, “What a Fool Believes.”  But, unlike Steely Dan and it cousins, this band does nothing too presumptuous.
And that is really the strength of Mayer Hawthorne and the County: They know who they are.
Instead of over-doing it and perhaps falling just short, they keep it simple and do it well. Very well. Their power is in the arrangement and the clean and honest execution of the songs with simple, old school lyrics delivered without a hint of throw-back hipster irony:
“She wants that, I got that, and I’m gonna give it to her…”

Okay, maybe just a little hint of throw-back hipster irony. Especially when delivered from the mouth of a Buddy Holly look-alike. 

Motown purists may take issue with a band like this hitching a ride on the Retro-soul Express, but I don’t.
And trust me, they are on that train, maybe even driving that train, selling boarding passes to any cool grad student in the know.  The band rolled in with two tour buses, their own opening act in tow, their own sound guy on stage and one in the back, a ton of merch (Along with the best merch guy I’ve ever seen.  I mean, not to get off on a tangent, but he described each album- both vinyl and cd- each t-shirt, keychain, etc.  Keep that dude!), and a neon lighted Mazda with the band logo emblazoned on the side (Mazda sponsors the tour).  Throughout the show Mayer pimped different websites where you can find his cds, re-mixes, and other paraphernalia.   
All these trappings might have turned me off if the show wasn’t so damn good. 

And so damn entertaining. Mayer mastered the crowd, weaving his nice-boy banter in and out of songs and really engaging the audience.  At the end of the hour set and two song encore, the crowd was left feeling good and wanting more soul.  And for the critics that resent people like Mayer piggybacking on their genre, just lighten up and listen to the music.  Have fun.  Maybe even dance a bit.
Like Mayer said, “This is a show, not a concert.”
I for one will be keeping tabs on Mayer’s show from here on out.  

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One Response to Donnelly: Mayer Hawthorne & The County at the Bottleneck

  1. pellboy says:

    Didn’t see the show although I am a bit familiar with his music. When referencing Mayer Hawthorne and his retro soul stylings, it would be remiss to leave out the Delfonics as an influence.

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