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Mayer Hawthorne – My Gigging Year

January 13, 2011

This will be my final post in the ‘my gigging year’ series (I know it’s 2011 now, I’ve been busy all right?), but hopefully there will be two more entries coming soonish. Having learnt my lesson of trying to review a gig with only a half baked memory of the event, I have enlisted the help of r-biz and chris bingo, who were at the respective gigs with me, to review Local Natives and Everything Everything for me. From what little I do recall they were both great live, but I’ll leave the details to my boys who have a properly functioning long-term memory.

Like Vanessa Williams sang on those Bisto adverts from way back when, I have saved the best for last. It was a very close race, Gorillaz running him very close, but in the end Mayer Hawthorne came out top of the pile for my favourite gig of the year. But before I get to the meat and veg of the gig review, it’d be prudent to provide some background info on an artist whose profile is way smaller than it deserves to be.

So, Mayer Hawthorne – who the hell is he? Well, in short, he’s a DJ turned soul singer, and like his English counterpart Plan B he’s made the transition work. He started off his musical career as a hip-hop DJ named ‘Haircut’, and along the way has picked up the skills of a multi-instrumentalist (he played all the instruments on his debut album, ‘A Strange Arrangement’), producer, songwriter, arranger and, according to wikipedia, he also raps (I haven’t come across any evidence of this though). Oh, and now he sings soul too.

Andrew Cohen (his real name) apparently began making songs under the Mayer Hawthorne alias as a joke, originally intended for only his friends and family’s amusement. It turned out that he could sing despite the fact that he had no formal training and, not only that, create soul standards so authentic that when his music found it’s way to Peanut Butter Wolf (head of Stones Throw Records) he couldn’t believe that this was music made in the noughties (what are we in now – ‘the tens’?) by a 31-year-old white boy from Michigan. I too had a similar experience – when I was turned on to Mayer Hawthorne I assumed he was a classic artist from the Motown era that I had somehow heard nothing about before.

So, on to the gig. It was at ULU, the students union for the University of London, which was surprisingly nice with a decent capacity and good speaker setup. I was looking forward to this gig more than most as I was really interested to see whether his voice would be as good as it was on record, and what kind of band he would play with – there were so many unanswered questions for me as a newcomer to this pseudo-soul scene. And so Mayer strolls on to the stage – from the first second I could tell that he had something special about him – a swagger, confidence – and as the set progressed he proved me right. He was just so charming – so few acts really interact with with the crowd, but Mayer had an old-school showmanship that modern performers sorely lack, and really got everybody in the mood for the feel good numbers that were about to come our way.

He started off with Maybe So, Maybe No, one of my favourites, and hit the ground running. Mayer and his band looked the part, wearing matching suits, and The County (the name for Mayer’s band) performed just as well as you’d expect a bunch of black jazzy looking musicians to. They were tight almost to a fault – I don’t know how long they have been playing together, but however long it is, they are very talented. Mayer’s voice was better than I had expected – on his album it’s good, not great (somehow that’s part of the appeal) – but after seeing him live he seems to have gotten better in the time since he recorded his album.

The songs from his album sounded even better live, with little changes here and there to the song structures giving Mayer more room to get the crowd involved. The images that stand out in my memory were of the crowd making raindrop shapes for I Wish It Would Rain, singing “baby, baby ooh baby” along to Love is Alright, the smiles on literally everyone in the crowd, and the huge amount of dancing going on. Even I got my boogie down a little, which is no mean feat – if nothing else, it was the feel-good factor at this gig that elevates it above everything else I saw in 2010. So congratulations go to Mayer Hawthorne – I hope you come back to these shores very soon, and if you bring a new album with you that would be great.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Athénaïs permalink
    January 19, 2011 9:46 pm

    Aaaah I always thought he was black!! 🙂 Your review makes me want to see him live!!!! I wish I had been too 😦

  2. jouliejools permalink
    January 21, 2011 10:55 am

    And you say your memory is bad… You just reminded me how great live it was! I totally forgot some parts of the gig, and now I realise the vinyl doesn’t sound as perfect as I told you. God, live music…!
    Did you know he recorded a lot of the vocals through a pair of old headphones instead of a mic?

  3. mDilsh permalink
    January 22, 2011 3:20 pm

    I didn’t know that! I remember doing that when I was a kid, it was awesome – happy days.

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