(Originally written for Reverb1)
Mayer Hawthorne and the County
If there’s a consistent way to win one’s heart, it’s nostalgia.
If you’ve ever met up with an old friend after an estrangement or talked to a curmudgeonly older person, you’ve seen its power. Nostalgia is what makes every generation better than the next and keeps ex-lovers in address books.
But instead of bucking their elders and telling them to step aside, today’s youth have embraced the culture of their parents—and sometimes grandparents—in a sort of prenatal yearning for a time when vinyl records, whirligigs and ducktail haircuts were common.
Mayer Hawthorne comes up short of a full-tilt nostalgist, though. He’s certainly got bygone sensibilities, but there’s no mistaking his modernity. In both taste and range, Hawthorne is as likely to cover Frank Sinatra as he is Snoop Dogg; with an iPhone in pocket and two albums of swinging love songs to his name, he’s like a tweeting Buddy Holly, horn-rimmed specs and all.
Saturday night, Hawthorne offered style and substance alike to Denver’s Ogden Theatre sporting a cherry tuxedo and a tight four-piece band for the occasion. Behind them, a broken heart flicked on and bathed the stage in red neon, followed by the brass of “You Called Me,” the first number of the evening.
Vocally, Hawthorne often ducked his high register, a safe choice that colored songs like “A Long Time” and “One Track Mind” bluer than usual. Still, he started the show with a stated goal of starting a party, and in that, he succeeded. The often seamless setlist flowed from clusters of high-tempo sock hops down to the occasional lovelorn valley only to climb up doo-wop mountain again right after. The effect was, like any worth-while trip down lover’s lane, dizzying. But it had its downside: When it came time for the show’s one bona fide slow dance, a take on the Sinatra-famous “I’ve Got a Crush On You,” the room was too abuzz from the preceding high-water mark “The Walk” to give Hawthorne’s croon the peace it deserved.
But aside from a few shushing audience members, no one in the room seemed to mind, Hawthorne included. Later, he intimated that as long as folks came out and had fun, he would continue to perform. As if to put it to vote, midway through the set closer “The Ills,” a woman chucked a pair of pink underwear onstage. With a smirk, Hawthorne carried on as if it was business as usual and finished without comment. Still, he’ll likely remember Denver fondly enough to swing by again on his next tour — even if just to return the woman’s property.