Mayer Hawthorne is one of those artists. A select and ever growing group of artists who’ve made sure you no longer hear, “there’s no good music out there anymore” out of my mouth. His blend of smooth vocals and toe tapping tunes provided by his band, “The County”, provide the type of music I’m looking for in 2014. Hawthorne is an artist I’ve enjoyed and kept my eye on for quite some time, and I’ve enjoyed his output, which up to now has been heavily flavored in his hometown, Detroit’s brand of soul. A favored genre of mine to be sure, but to misquote Burt Bacharach, “what the world needs now is funk.” Hawthorne’s most recent LP, “Where does this door go”, does not skimp on that, displaying Hawthorne’s mastery of hooks, melodies, and edgy romantic love stories against a classic yet bumpier, nottier, snappier, grittier contemporary funk sound, like the Temptations going from “My Girl” to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” All of this set the stage for the perfect feel good musical event to start my concert going adventures in 2014 off properly.
My date and myself had two standing room only tickets to see Hawthorne at the Fox Theater on Telegraph. For those outside of the Bay Area, the Fox is one of those theaters that keep music flowing by providing a 2,000 to 5,000 capacity venue for artists large and small to perform. It’s beautiful antiquarian design and gilded edges always give me visions of James Brown, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Jackie Wilson, in all their soulful, chitlin circuit touring glories. And it’s comination of a seated balcony and an open dance floor make it perfect for what my friend Ron said was called in the ’60s, a “Show and Dance.”
Before we could get to enjoy the main event, we were treated to two opening acts. The first was by a young lady named Gavin Turek. Turek took the stage in a funky midriff baring ensemble with wild ringlets that kept tamborine like time as she whipped up her rew of dance/pop/funk magic. Her band was nice and her music had that funky, electronic, “Princely” vibe. All of that was set off by the fact that she’s a dynamic performer who matched funk with a series of Afrocentricly powerful, essence of femininity dance moves. Her vibe was so deep I feared we’d soon get rain in the building, or at least increase the population. She definitely made my list of artists to keep an eye on.
The next act was the Danish duo, Quadron. Their music was good as well, but you could tell their stock in trade seemed to be slower, mellow mood music that got hyped up when it hit the stage. I did enjoy their female vocalist, and she even did a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor”, off her classic “Miseducation” album. My date, Jazz, didn’t feel they did the song justice. All in all, their set was decent but it just made us anxious for the main attraction.
The stage had Hawthorne’s logo, a heart broken in two, with an “M” on one side and a “H” on the other. Hawthorne’s band, “The County”, came out in smart outfits, matching vests and slacks with open collared shirts, that really brought out that ’60s soul band vibe Hawthorne guns for. The bass player, Joe Abrams, and the guitarist Topher Mohr, did Earth, Wind & Fire styled routines as they ran the length of the stage switching positions. Hawthorne himself came out in a smartly tailored suit. From the moment he hit the stage, the crowd was involved, dancing and singing along with the show. It was no surprise that in the indie loving Bay Area, people knew all the words to the songs.
Hawthorne played a set that focused heavily on his current album, which he kept calling his “new” album, “Where Does This Door Go.” The band was super tight on the early 1980s easy listening rock/soul vibe of “Back Seat Lover.” “The Walk” from his 2011 album “How Do You Do” had a 1960s throwback vibe, but the bassline reminded me of Betty Wright’s “Tonight is the Night” in particular.
Hawthorne and his band gave us a number of hot joints from his album, “Allie Jones”, “The Innocent, and the thoughtful latin inflected funk/hip hop groove of “Wine Glass Woman” stuck out in particular, with it’s lyric that goes “I know what you’re drinkin love/Wonder what you’re thinking of.”
Hawthorne’s song “The Stars are Ours” was hard rocking, feautring a Nirvana intro. One of the songs that hit me the hardest personally, was the energetic “Peg” like groove of “Reach Out Richard”, mainly because it made me think of my own deceased father.
The Band used the classic soul trick of a fake ending before they came out to perform their encore. They hit us with one of my favorite songs in life for the encore, Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby”, and the band sounded excellent, with Quentin Joseph on drums hitting the skins with the same power found on the original. I was impressed by the quality of the samples on Quincy McCrary’s keyboards, as they ably provided the Maestro’s powerful horn and string riffs. The band let the groove marinate in true Love Walrus fashion as well before Hawthorne sang the lyrics “When you give it up/it’s only enough to let me see/ooh wee/that you’re playing a game/it’s so plain!/you want me to wait.” I was truly in soul heaven for a brief moment.
Hawthorne closed the show out with a song I already feel is a classic, “Her Favorite Song”, the lead single from the “Where Does This Door Go” album. The song is a beautiful and funky tune about a woman who turns to music to overcome the disappoinments of life, love and work. It features a great structure, a heavy, rock hard hip hop/funk verse that represents the womans grind, and a free flowing, Afro-Latin, jazzy chorus with a Earth, Wind & Fire Brazillian styled vocalization signifiying the relrease she gets from her favorite song. The song typifies feel good music using the statement Art Blakey made for jazz, as something that “washes off the dust of every day life.” Hawthorne stretched out the ending refrain, “Got to shake it off”, encouraging everybody to shake off their own problems before they left that night. The song and that soulbiz gesture exemplify why I dig Hawthorne, he still seems to have that old school belief that “one thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” And I definitely didn’t feel any pain last Saturday night at the Fox.