I’ll tell you this much about Mayer Hawthorne and his 2010-update-of-1960s-Motown-soul shtick: he’s certainly done his homework.
Not just content with delivering stone cold classic musical gems that Berry Gordy would be falling over himself to sign, tonight it’s clear that Mayer has a Mad Men-like attention to historical detail in recreating the golden era of soul.
From the crimson velour curtain backdrop on the Neumos stage to the giant letters ‘M’ and ‘H’ written in retro-yellow lightbulbs, as if they were sponsoring a particular episode of Soul Train Sesame Street, to the identical thin black ties, white shirts and gray cardigans of Hawthorne’s backing band The County right down to Mayer’s patter between songs, tonight’s performance is a near-perfect reimagining of the 1960s soul and doo-wop experience. If that experience was fronted by a Tobey Maguire lookalike. And Mayer is keen to stress that he wants us fully along for the ride. “This is a show not a concert, so if you’re not going to dance, go to the back or upstairs!”
Sporting his signature specs and a sensible haircut, there’s no question that the dapper gent is the best dressed person in the venue with his choice of silver suit that manages to stay remarkably sweat-free during the course of Mayer’s energetic set that includes fan favorites ‘Maybe So, Maybe No’, ‘I Need You’, and the very Seattle-appropriate ‘I Wish It Would Rain’.
We’re also treated to impromptu renditions of Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gangsta Luv’ and ‘Beautiful’, to which Hawthorne lays on a falsetto croon that’s more Pharrell than Pharrell and so high-pitched and commanding that I’m surprised every dog in Capitol Hill isn’t racing down to 10th and Pike to obediently form dog pyramids outside the venue doors.
He then begins to teach us all a new dance – the ‘Errol Flynn’ – which upon hearing I mentally prepare to attempt to master a complicated knot of foot placings and knee-jerk ankle grabs only to find out that it’s in fact solely comprised of raising your right hand in front of your face and slowly turning it backwards and forwards in time to the music. Two seconds later we’re all pros.
“This is the first song I ever released and also the first song I ever wrote” says Hawthorne as he pulls out the limited edition heart-shaped red vinyl of his debut single ‘Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out’. He approaches the upstairs balcony and slowly rehearses throwing it up there before faking it last minute and frisbeeing it into the front row.
The show that’s not a concert then draws to a close with a highly spirited encore that includes the sunny swing of ‘One Track Mind’ (that’s surprisingly about shopping) and a cover of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Work To Do’ which features Mayer going to work so hard on a tambourine that it’s amazing he’s got any hand left at the end of it.
In support was NYC’s Gordon Voidwell. Taking his cues from the city’s 1980s disco heritage, Gordon is to the Paradise Garage what Mayer Hawthorne is to Motown as he kick-starts the evening by launching into Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ with a scarily note-perfect falsetto that catches us all off guard.
With his leather jacket sleeves rolled up, white t-shirt, jangly thin gold chains bought from the dollar store and oversized glasses, there’s no doubt Gordon rocks the party that rocks the party as he single-handedly brings the energy to the Sunday night crowd with a raucously stomping mix of four to the floor disco beats, Casio handclaps, and synths that sound full of galaxies, helium and glitterballs. Definitely one to watch, he’s only one catchy radio single away from being a credible crossover superstar.
High: Take your pick of any of their hits, but Mayer Hawthorne and the County’s brief yet utterly sublime cover of J Dilla’s ‘Fall in Love’ deserves a special mention.
Low: Gordon Voidwell constantly berating the crowd for not dancing enough. Just because we’re not doing continous star jumps for 30 minutes doesn’t mean we’re not having a good time Gordon!
In a Tweet: Sam Cooke and Otis Redding geek chic soul goes 21st century with Snoop covers and a picture-perfect performance.
Were you at the Mayer Hawthorne show? What did you think? Let KEXP know in the Comments section below!