I was dodging the flailing arms and hair of the wildly dancing girl in front of me, as well as trying to balance my red wine (plastic) glass here stuck between all the heaving grooving bodies, when it suddenly struck me: I was in the presence of the anti-Elvis Costello for the New Shiny Age. But I will get to that…

Who do you get to support such a self-assured, yacht-rock-pop-Motown übercool überGeek such as Mayer Hawthorne? Both supports – the big voiced Fantine and the astonishing Electric Empire seemed too grown up and too serious for this silly, fun party.

Fantine, supported by her lone guitarist (well, as lone as a guitarist with a loop-box of tricks at his feet can be) was perhaps the most truly original artist of the night, or at least the one who buried her influences deeper than E.E. or M.H. Her voice was huge, her songs cool yet accessible – keep a weather eye on Fantine; she should be big.

Electric Empire of course thrilled as ever – with three knockout vocalists and strong strong material, we always gladly overlook the too-close Stevie and Marvin 70s capital-‘s’-Soul references and grooves. Their Soul was from Motown (Wonder, GayeInnervisions, ‘Inner City Blues’) as was Mayer Hawthorne’s (Supremes, Temptations, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’) but like the gulf between 60s and 70s Motown, their musics were a galaxy apart.

Heralded by his band, The County’s funk groove (his bass player gets the award for best hair of the nite – Afro d’Excellence), Mayer Hawthorne bounced onto the stage in a swirl of hyper-energy and fun. The small fact that his vocal mic wasn’t in the mix for the first few seconds was overshadowed by his perfect Yacht Rock styling: white jacket, white Bermudas, stripey socks and white trainers (he would later team this ensemble with a white Epiphone Les Paul – ahh, I could almost hear Hall & Oates sighing with envy from a sunny marina far in the distance). I guess it was at this point that the niggling thought entered my head for the first time tonight: Is Mayer Hawthorne serious or is this all some (albeit-beautifully-constructed) post-modern gag?

The music is great: three songs in ‘The Walk’ – the single from his new LP How Do You Do? – put the party into drive. A perfect groove, a perfect hook, delivered to an audience that Hawthorne could point his mic at at any time and they would sing back the next line – it was all too good to be true. A little like Mayer Hawthorne himself.

He welcomed us to the ‘Mayer Hawthorne SHOW’, emphasising that this was not a ‘concert’, or an ‘orchestra’ (sic) but a Show – directing all the Party People down to the front and shoo’ing the party poopers up the back where they belonged. This of course was pure 60’s Motown – pure entertainment for the people (he says his favourite show as a child was the after school dance show ‘The New Dance Show’ – perfectly recreated for the clip to his song ‘A Long Time’). Pure entertainment for the people – or is it?

Hawthorne bends to give a female audience member his guitar plectrum. He takes a picture of all of us for Twitter. He lets us take a picture of him holding a bouquet of flowers like an Academy Award winner. He tells us to now put our cameras away and ‘pretend’ we are at a Show enjoying it in ‘real time’. A friend said Hawthorne reminded her of a pop music Jeff Koons – the US artist who replicates cheesy ads starring himself that walk the thinnest possible edge of irony.

The girl dancer flailed, the audience heaved around me, my red wine spilled. It flashed on me that Hawthorne was the anti-Elvis Costello for the New Shiny Age. All the parallels and opposites were there: both Elvis Costello and Mayer Hawthorne draw upon 60s pop music as the base template for their songs – E.C. used 60s British Pop, M.H. the sweeter Motown equivalent. Both affect a speccy-nerd style, with ill-judged/perfectly-judged clothes to match – with E.C. it accentuated the bitterness of his songs, with M.H. it charms us into his (supposedly) irony-free world of party party party.

Elvis Costello was a razor-sharp signifier of his place and time, Britain in the late 1970’s – the intelligent, sensitive loner in a bleaker and bleaker world of Government thuggery and societal fragmentation. Mayer Hawthorne is equally a spot-on signifier of his own place and time, 2012 USA. The breeziness of his delivery, the uncrackable smile, the tan, the summer-weight clothes suggest an American Dream free of cares or thoughts or woes. His is the music of a youthful affluence that America and the world cling to against all signs to the contrary. And it’s great to dance to.

Check out Katja Liebing’s pics of the show here

Published February 2012 on theorangepress.net

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