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Live: Mayer Hawthorne & The County

| November 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Subterranean, Chicago
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crooner-producer Mayer Hawthorne has come a long way with his stage show in the short time he has been performing as a suit-wearing soul purveyor. Seeing him at a Stones Throw Records showcase in the spring of 2009, Hawthorne was just trying to figure out how to introduce his first solo tracks with no one backing him. He had enough confidence for a newcomer, but was still slightly awkward singing classic soul over recorded instrumentals.
 
Fast-forward to 2010 and Hawthorne has grown into his live sets, joined by his touring band, The County, and giving off a greater sense of focus. At his Chicago SubT show (moved from Park West), he and The County commanded a “dance party” from the capacity crowd and they often got it. Performing about half the tracks off his solo debut, A Strange Arrangement, and then a mix of covers and new songs, the night saw a tight performance with personality.
 
From the beginning of the set, Hawthorne, with a tambourine in hand, told people who weren’t going to dance to head to the back of the room. No one seemed to budge and went on to give back plenty of energy while original songs like the melodic “Make Her Mine” or a cover of Pharrell’s parts on the Snoop Dogg hit “Beautiful” were played. Hawthorne also connected with fans by sometimes sharing quick narratives between sets – one, where he says he was mistaken for “Spiderman” (a.k.a. Tobey Maguire) by a persistent TSA agent at O’Hare.
 
The mood remained consistently upbeat until an extended version of the slow-rolling song about stubborn infatuation, “Green Eyed Love,” carried on a few minutes too long (guitar solo and all). With the help of The County, Hawthorne resurrected the energy while performing his lone socially minded track, “The Ills” — his most uptempo offering yet and the kind of song that’s made to be played live given the high-power horn parts and handclap-evoking percussion.
 
Interestingly, though, after this song closed the show, a couple guys working at the venue were baffled that the crowd didn’t cheer for an encore. “If they would have kept cheering they would have gotten another song,” one of the men argued convincingly. Maybe so, but in his many visits to Chicago in his short career, this was possibly his best reception yet.
 
— Max Herman

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