Mayer Hawthorne & the County at Culture Room, October 3

Photo by Ian Witlen
Mayer Hawthorne & The County
Mayer Hawthorne & the County
with Gordon Voidwell
At Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Check out a slideshow from the concert here.

Better than: A Southern down-home BBQ hootenanny.

The Review:
Something about soul music infused with R&B and hints at 1970s disco funk promised at Mayer Hawthorne & the County's show Sunday just made us expect more parental units to join in on the fun. But they didn't. However, there were a lot of fresh-faced kids gleaming with innocence and positivity. Did they know what these songs were about? Mayer Hawthorne preaches a hell of a lot about love and happiness, but he also sings even more about getting it on, heartbreak, and adult situations like "strange arrangements."

Opening act Gordon Voidwell and his band began promptly at 8:30, but his cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was so spot-on that no one really noticed they'd taken to the stage. The three-piece -- equipped with keyboards, synths, and drums -- had quirky little mentions and anecdotes throughout their half-hour set, from "We from the Bronx, and we dressin' weird 'cause that's how we do" to "We're comin' down from this crazy lcd trip we took." But when they mentioned "This is hip-hop," a bunch of us just shook our heads in disagreement. Hip-hop?!

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Sounding more like a synth-heavy R&B group, Gordon Voidwell brought on the energy with nostalgia-inducing tracks. Viewing the set from upstairs, to get the full vibe of the crowd, and it felt more like the upper level and lower level were divided by more than just space; they were divided by generations. The older crowd and Mazda VIPs took to leaning over the balcony-like region, slightly swaying and doing silly Carlton Banks à la Fresh Prince of Bel Air dance moves. They were drunk and having the time of their lives, and they didn't care who knew it.

From the front row during Mayer Hawthorne's set, it was clear that the younger crowd was utterly obsessed. Judging by last night, Hawthorne is the early 20-something's reaction to the Justin Bieber phenomenon. Girls were screaming so loud, and there wasn't one moment when everyone in the pit wasn't full-on dancing, hands raised, or jumping up and down. They were drunk on life, it looked like -- and a little on the booze too.

His band -- the County -- was sharply dressed in matching red cardigans, white shirts, and black ties, almost resembling a carbon copy of a '60s doo-wop group. The look was perfect for the band's sound, and Hawthorne stood out in a black three-piece suit and a red tie, modernizing it all with black and red Nike kicks. When they took to the stage, glowing "MH" initials adorned with light bulbs lit up the room, and all you could hear were screaming fans and Hawthorne's voice.

Unfortunately, the mics were a little low the first two songs in, and the band almost overpowered Hawthorne. But a few vigilant fans screamed "raise the mics" so much that by the third song, the problem was fixed. The audience's enthusiasm seemed to be the recurring topic of the evening, as Hawthorne was so impressed by it that he decided to take a picture of the crowd cheering with his iPhone and upload it via Twitter.

Hawthorne admitted candidly, "This is the first time I've done a lot of these songs ever," perhaps a reward for such overwhelming crowd energy. They performed almost as if they were being recorded -- and they were, as camera phones raised and fans seemed to record each song without pause. And really, there was no way to tell when to pause, since each song was transitioned so seamlessly, you almost couldn't tell when one ended and the other began until you heard the song's chorus change.

Hawthorne seemed to be fueled by all of the enthusiasm, and as each song progressed, he grew more energetic and more physical on stage. He went from teaching fans a "dance" that was just a hand turning from back to front to going all out playing air guitar and air drums, eyes closed and mouth wide open as he felt every move his bandmates made. He continued to work the crowd, asking the "single people to raise their hands," no doubt getting all the couples in trouble, as a few of them raised their hands as a joke and their significant others raised their brows. The crowd laughed, momentary tension lifted in an instant by Hawthorne's nerdy smile.

He pulled out a heart-shaped vinyl record toward the end of his set and mentioned that it was the first record he'd ever made. He waved it around to the left of the crowd, then the right, teasing to see who would be the most enthusiastic person to grab hold of it. The winner? The girl standing next to us.

For the last song, Hawthorne asked the audience to get closer and raise their hands, and we got so close it almost felt like we were a pack of sardines. No one seemed to mind it, though, as hands swayed and die-hard fans lip-synched every single word that came out of Hawthorne's mouth.  

Once Hawthorne and the band left the stage -- an apparent end to the show because of the set list we caught a glimpse of earlier -- the crowd frantically cheered "Mayer! Mayer!" until they got him to come back. Hawthorne came back, saying "I was not expecting a crowd like this tonight" to uproarious cheers.

Hawthorne began singing "Strange Arrangement" as rainbow searchlights shone on the crowd, and when he stopped, the crowd continued to cheer him on. Hawthorne shrugged his shoulders and looked at the band as he said, "I guess we'll do one more" and gave us all exactly what we wanted.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I was so close during Mayer Hawthorne's performance that I rested my phone on the stage -- and could see Hawthorne's fillings.

Personal disclaimer: I don't think I've ever seen a frontman incorporate a funny story into the beginning of a song. But Hawthorne did, and we almost thought the little tidbit was actually part of the song's introduction. Apparently Hawthorne underwent a case of mistaken identity at the airport yesterday morning, which morphed into his rendition of "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'" (video below).

The crowd: Lots of couples, 20-somethings, middle-aged Mazda employees.

Overheard in the crowd: From a drunk 30-something VIP: "We got more clapping done in this corner of the room than in the whole place combined."

Random detail: The girl standing next to me was handed a heart-shaped vinyl by Hawthorne himself for being so "enthusiastic" during the show.

By the way: This was Mayer Hawthorne's first time in South Florida.

Mayer Hawthorne & the County Set List
"Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'"
"Make Her Mine"
"Maybe So, Maybe No"
"Gangsta Luv"
"I Need You"
"Wish It Would Rain"
"Ruthless"
"No Strings"
"Beautiful" (cover)
"A Long Time" (new song)
"What a Fool Believes" (cover)
"Green Eyed Love"
(Reprise)
"Just Ain't Gonna Work Out"
(Remix)
"The Ills"

Encore:
"Strange Arrangement"
"Let Me Know"


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