The crowd was packed, and there was a distinctly eclectic feeling in the Majestic Theater last Thursday as the crowd gathered to see Mayer Hawthorne. And perhaps eclectic is the best way to describe Hawthorne fans, for the divisive disconnect between Hawthorne’s white boy charm and his soulful crooning could only appeal to a diverse crowd.
To kick off the night, openers The Living Statues came on one by one at 8:30 p.m. sharp, led by the group’s bassist. The band played a solid 45-minute set, an energetic mix of bluesy garage rock and ’60s pop. Every member of The Living Statues boasts noticeable talent in his position, especially the pinch-hitting guitarist, who according to frontman Tommy Shears learned every song in a week after Shears injured his hand. Shears himself was a thunderhead on stage, performing like Julian Casablancas with an Elvis twist. On top of “Stay in the States,” the single that helped the group achieve radio play, “Alone” and “Stranger” were the set’s more memorable tracks.
Hawthorne and his backup band (referred to as The Country) appeared onstage around 9:50 p.m. with one of the more unique stage setups I’ve seen, with not just the standard guitar and bass onstage but an old beat-up armchair and an organ. It was clear from the beginning Hawthorne’s showmanship is incredible – from choreographed swing moves to audience involvement, Hawthorne played the Majestic like he owned it. One example of this was “picture time,” where Hawthorne, decked out in red tux and bowtie, posed for audience cameras (insisting afterward they be put away).
One element that contributed to Hawthorne and The Country’s excellent stage presence was the meticulously strung-together set – each song smoothly transitioned to the next. Between songs, The Country (which consisted of a bass guitarist, electric guitarist, drummer, organ player and, occasionally, Hawthorne on a white Flying V) would jam as Hawthorne introduced his material to the audience.
This gave the concert something of a scripted feeling, but it also played into the previously mentioned showmanship – it made the show seem like a pre-packaged deal, with all the bells and whistles but little deviation or improvisation. The set was generally a collection of hits from Hawthorne’s How Do You Do and A Strange Arrangement, but it also featured radical covers of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” which segued straight out of How Do You Do’s “Finally Falling.”
Highlights of Hawthorne and The Country’s performance included the aforementioned covers, which the crowd ate up, along with “Finally Falling,” “Hooked,” “Get to Know You,” “Dreaming” and a ten-minute encore presentation of “Henny & Gingerale,” a catchy ode to what is presumably Hawthorne’s favorite drink – he even prepared a few onstage. The song itself was a spectacular jam, with incredible solos from each band member; the organist’s was particularly enthralling, as he unleashed a Daft Punk-esque solo to praise and positive reactions from the crowd and Hawthorne himself.
Overall, the concert offered extremely good music that was rather timeless, from the ’60s pop/rock combo of The Living Statues to the swinging Motown homages of Hawthorne and The Country. Hawthorne displayed extremely good showmanship which lent itself to an electric energy that was felt throughout the venue.
While Hawthorne’s live tunes failed to achieve the polish of his studio work, part of the show’s appeal was hearing him sing as part of a more stripped-down yet talented ensemble. While the choreography and planned transitions gave the concert a somewhat practiced, routine feeling, those same factors contributed to Mayer Hawthorne and The Country’s professionalism and showmanship.