A sold-out crowd filled Deluxe at Old National Centre Wednesday for a night of neo-soul groove and Motown-like melodies courtesy of Mayer Hawthorne, along with his band The County, currently on tour in support of sophomore record How Do You Do.
Born Andrew Mayer Cohen in Ann Arbor, Mich., Hawthorne has taken the quintessential Detroit sound of yesteryear, one of slick production, muscular backbeats, an occasional horn section and bubble gum vocals, and mixed it with a modern take on R&B and pop. His brisk, easily enjoyable songs rarely venture outside of the 3:30 mark and almost always deal with the singular topic of love.
"For those of you that don't know, I write a lot of love songs," Hawthorne said at one point during his set. "What can I say? I like writing love songs."
And so went the evening.
Hawthrone jumped on stage sporting a crisp, blood red blazer to the best of his love tunes, "You Called Me," a zippy song which found the singer's crummy day salvaged after a well-timed phone call from his sweetheart.
Other songs which featured a helplessly romantic Hawthorne included the syrupy falsetto-laced "Make Her Mine," where, despite his lack of possessions and wealth, the singer vows to go to end of the world just to please the object of his affections, and the Temptations-esque "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'" a peppy jingle about a woman who has the bespectacled singer mesmerized with her looks.
But where Hawthorne's lyrics would be charming and quaint, they would also deal with the other variations of the L word including heartache, jealousy and breakups.
The crowd favorite was "The Walk," the deceptively catchy lead single off his current record that tells a bombshell with a bad attitude to take a hike.
"So long you did me wrong," sang members of The County over a pulsating march provided by drummer Quentin Joseph.
Even when putting a woman to the curb, Hawthorne's innocent brand of sexism came off as suave and handsome. Yet he wasn't completely immune from singing songs in poor taste, as "No Strings Attached," an anti-love song about "disconnected sex," as Hawthorne eloquently put it, proved. Despite being well-executed and as catchy as any other song in his library, the song's subject matter is left better to more odious figures like Chris Brown.
While Hawthorne's set was instantly gratifying and fun, is it too much to ask for a shorter set time? With so many short songs stitched together so tightly, the evening had the feel of a variety show as opposed to a concert. But I suppose a variety show is something a person such as Hawthorne, who has made a career by copping the Holland-Dozier-Holland sound, would deem ideal.
To counter the precise efficiency of Hawthorne's set was the psychedelic-pop trio The Stepkids, a well meaning bunch whose music slowly devolved from sporadically funky to outright tedious. While each of the band's songs began with a solid funk beat, or a notable riff that sounded like a Hendrix B-side, they tossed structure to the side and went off on incoherent jams that were indistinguishable from one another. And while the band, who were clad in white to disappear in the elaborate light display that filled the stage, seemed to be having fun, they should investigate brevity.