Mayer Hawthorne and the County at the Firebird, 5/22/12: Review, Photos and Setlist

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Liz MIller
Mayer Hawthorne and the County | the Stepkids
May 22, 2012
The Firebird

Mayer Hawthorne is so smooth. His pitch-perfect pipes slide from fragile falsetto to deep, soul-filled croon; his style and swagger resemble a mix of Buddy Holly and Andre 3000. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, less than 50 miles from the city that bore Motown, Andrew Mayer Cohen came of age during the rise of rap and R&B in the 1980s and 1990s. The stage name Mayer Hawthorne combines his middle name with the name of the street of his childhood home, otherwise known as the formula for generating porn star names. His breakout album, A Strange Arrangement (2009), and his latest release, How Do You Do (2011) share his talented, soulful sound, but understanding Mayer Hawthorne is best explained in his live show, where polished stage presence and creative crowd interaction bring the song to life.

The last time Mayer Hawthorne and his band mates from the County came to St. Louis it was as tour support for Chromeo at the Pageant in November 2011, shortly after the release of How Do You Do. In early May he kicked-off the How Do You Do North American tour, stopping in St. Louis on Tuesday, May 22, at the Firebird (2706 Olive Street; 314-535-0353) with Stones Throw Records label mates psychedelic funk trio the Stepkids opening. A signature of the trippy Stepkids live experience is the group's kaleidoscope projections, enhanced by band outfitted in all white down to their instruments. Experimental video bleeds in and out of the performances, pulsating with the music, ebbing with its flow in pixels resembling at times eight-bit video games, at others tribal scrawls. The three-piece trades and share vocal duty of their ambient, primal noise, keeping the crowd on its toes with its wild imagery and chill energy.

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Liz Miller

The laid-back but dancey vibe of the Stepkids primed last night's crowd well for the headliner, who, after a quick dismantling for the projection screen, took the stage at 9:30 p.m. Clad in a similar uniform of fitted denim pants, crisp white dress shirts, blazers and variations of Keep kicks, the band oozed freshness from the get-go. Making his way to the center of the stage -- and standing in front of a Mayer Hawthorne bobble-head doll, which a crew member previously warned the crowd not to steal with the the threat, "I will chase you down. I've done it before." -- Hawthorne met the audience with a grin, introducing the band and singing a few bars before launching into "You Called Me." From the first it was clear that the packed house of all-ages fans were feeling it, with shimmying and swaying in no short order and catcalls, like, "You're so sexy!" and "I want your babies!" abounding.

The performance volleyed back and forth between A Strange Arrangement and How Do You Do tracks, offering fans of every persuasion something to enjoy: On the heels of "You Called Me" came "Make Your Mind," pouring into "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'," and back again to "The Walk" with lyrics like, "Your shitty fuckin' attitude has got me changing my mind," dripping with more sass than Smokey. Cover songs revealing Hawthorne's influences peppered the setlist as well, with J. Dilla's "Rico Sauve Bossa Nova" flawlessly flowing into Hawthorne's "One Track Mind."

Fans of Hawthorne are likely familiar with the musician's predilection for adventurous eating while on tour, with food pictures from new cities frequenting his Instagram account as regularly as show photos (only his staged and posed crowd shots edging them out in popularity). Though its not evident in his demeanor, he pauses between songs to confess a feeling of sluggishness he attributes a "Frito Pie" he ate earlier that day from Pappy's Smokehouse (3106 Olive Street; 314-535-4340) down the street.

During "Stick Around" he attempts the Chuck Berry duck walk to more success than many achieve. Upbeat "Stick Around" gives way to a stunning high tenor a cappella arrangement of Busta Rhymes "Do My Thing" with fellow members of the County contributing to vocals. It's short but sweet and before the crowd knows it we've moved on to "Love In Motion" and then a preamble to "No Strings" explaining that he likes to write songs about love, but this song is "strictly about sex." Then it's wedding march-approved "Shiny & New," possibly Hawthorne's best-known song thanks to hip happy couples everywhere, followed by "I Wish It Would Rain," not to be confused with the Temptations song of the same name, though Hawthorne's voice haunts songs in the style of group co-founder Eddie Kendricks.

The musing, moody "Dreaming" precedes the last cover of the evening, Hall and Oates "You Make My Dreams Come True," a tune, if possible, Hawthorne belts with more conviction and flash than Darryl or John. The evening concludes with "Hooked" and "The Ills," and the band exits the stage at 10:50 p.m., returning thus to play "The Price Is Right" as encore.

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Liz MIller

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Also the child of baby boomer parents who loved Motown music, I'm enamored anew with Hawthorne's transfixing, soulful voice and fresh, forward-moving sound.

Random Detail: Near the end of the night, Hawthorne pulled a go-go dancing gal on stage and plopped her down, front row center, in the crowd, incurring more than a little ire from disgruntled neighbors.

Setlist:
Intro
You Called Me
Make Her Mind
Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'
The Walk
Rico Suave Bossa Nova (J. Dilla cover)
One Track Mind
Stick Around
Do My Thing/Watch Me Get Down (Busta Rhymes cover)
Love In Motion
No Strings
Shiny & New
Wish It Would Rain
Dreaming
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oates cover)
A Long Time
Finally Falling
Green Eyed love
Strange Arrangements
Get Out Of My Life Woman
Just Ain't Gonna Work Out
Hooked
The Ills
The Price Is Right


Location Info

Map

The Firebird

2706 Olive St., St. Louis, MO

Category: Music

Pappy's Smokehouse

3106 Olive St., St. Louis, MO

Category: Restaurant

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4 comments
Bryan Sutter
Bryan Sutter

Mayer Hawthorne brought their own sound engineer(s) with them. Even a seasoned individual can have trouble mixing in a room they are not familiar with. The mix was quieter than most shows, yes, but I noticed the sound being more dynamic than the typical evening. And that was wearing ear plugs. People seemed to be having quite the time during his set. I don't think they were worrying about the drums being too loud.

Guest
Guest

Wow.  Were you even at the show?  Absolutely nothing to say about the abysmal sound?  Your review is all well and good, and I'm quite sure your bias led you to believe the show was fantastic, but in reality, you couldn't hear anything but drums and bass guitar from anywhere that I stood in the room.  I would have loved to be able to hear keys, guitar, and perhaps even Mayer if it wasn't too much to ask.  But apparently it was too much to ask from The Firebird on Tuesday night.  I even went and stood directly in front of the sound man, surely he wasn't hearing the muddled low end mess I was hearing.  Sadly, it sounded the same there, if not worse.  And this was too bad, because it LOOKED like it was a great show.  Perhaps next time they will play a more suitable venue.

Liz Miller
Liz Miller

Hi, Guest. Yeah, I struggled with whether to include sound issues in the review, as I was standing in the front row, and though the sound wasn't crystal clear, it wasn't terrible. I later heard from friends who were standing in the middle of the room that it was almost impossible to hear him, but that wasn't my experience. I agree that the Firebird is very hit-or-miss on its sound quality, as I've experienced the same frustrations you describe at other shows there.

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