The Scene: As I walked past the front of The Ogden Theatre to wait in line, I had a very friendly couple with drunken grins upon their faces approach me and slowly shake hands with me as if they were reuniting with an old friend. I played along, talked with them for a bit, and sold them a spare ticket I had, which they were very thankful for. It was an appropriate way to set the tone for the remainder of my Saturday evening, which involved a friendly cast of characters including a middle-aged Star Trek nerd, numerous Mayer Hawthorne doppelgangers wearing horn-rimmed glasses, people dressed in ties (myself included), and of course, many adoring female fans. I was particularly amused by Mayer Hawthorne’s merchandise selection. Other bands and artists typically have a wide array of accessories available for purchase, but Hawthorne’s merch booth was minimal and straight to the point. You could either buy a tote bag featuring the musician’s infamous broken heart logo or a t-shirt that simply read “Mayer Motherf$@!ing Hawthorne.” Honestly, what more do you really need?
Opening Act: Harlan. It didn’t take long to prepare Harlan’s modest amount of musical equipment: a Flying V guitar, a MacBook, and a single board of effects pedals. After all, Harlan arrived onstage by himself without any additional musicians. A backup band was unnecessary for the solo artist who immediately triggered pre-made beats and instrumental tracks on his laptop and sang funky, soulful pop-rock numbers for a half-hour. Harlan looked quite confident and relaxed onstage, dressed in a ball-cap, glasses, and plaid shirt, he nailed his vocal parts and unleashed surprisingly technical guitar leads reminiscent of Prince. There were two songs that ended rather abruptly during the middle of a guitar solo, which prompted the Trekkie next to me to yell “awww, c’mon, keep going!” By the end of his set, I felt the same way. I could have easily used a few more songs. Harlan’s performance was short but sweet.
Mayer Hawthorne: I’ve been to many shows where a sound guy will plug an iPod into the PA system and loop a small playlist repeatedly between acts. Sometimes, the song selections are decent, but if you’re left waiting for a long period of time for roadies to set up and sound check, you start hearing the same songs several times and, naturally, you grow impatient. Luckily, Hawthorne deviated from the norm a bit and provided a live DJ to pump up the crowd with a wide array of old school Soul and Motown hits (he even played an excerpt from the “People’s Court” theme song).
As the DJ packed up his gear, the crowd crescendoed into loud cheering as Hawthorne’s backing band, The County, made their way onstage and vamped on the first few bars of “Can’t Stop” before introducing the man of the hour to step in front of the mic and carry the song into the opening verse. The first song had a fitting title, as the band could not stop playing and segued through about five or six consecutive tunes before finally taking a break to chat with the fans.
Hawthorne is a natural performer and charmed the pants off of everyone at the Ogden (quite literally – before the band’s encore, a pair of pink panties flew onstage). He posed for photos, he crooned through a Frank Sinatra cover, and he even shared a mixed drink of Vernor’s Ginger Ale and Hennessy with a lucky lady in the crowd. In addition to belting out a very solid vocal performance, shaking a tambourine, and occasionally playing staccato rhythm guitar chords on a white Epiphone, Hawthorne worked the stage and crowd like a pro. During the Sinatra cover, a blonde girl behind me was cheering and breathing heavily as if the song itself was making her hot and bothered. I wasn’t sure if she was turned on by me or Hawthorne, but in hindsight, I have a feeling it was Mr. Hawthorne that she was after.
At the beginning of his performance Hawthorne announced to the crowd that this wouldn’t simply be another “concert” but rather a “show” and he completely delivered on his promise. Every aspect of the show was well-rehearsed and there was plenty of attention devoted to detail. The County’s band members swayed side to side in sync with one another, tight musical fills were woven into select songs for some extra spice, and Mayer’s physical gestures were synchronized with various musical cues. A great amount of thought went into the performance that didn’t simply involve practicing riffs.
At the end of his encore, Hawthorne handed the spotlight over to his County bandmates as they went around the stage playing improvised instrumental solos while the man himself sipped his Hennessy and sat in a large leather chair. It was a well-deserved opportunity for the musician to kick back, celebrate, and savor a warm autumn evening in Denver. In a more general sense, Hawthorne was probably celebrating his increasing popularity (he mentioned playing the Ogden a year ago as an opening act, and now, he was headlining). Hopefully, his success continues to accelerate because pop music needs more Mayer Hawthornes out there – artists that not only have the intense work ethic of pop stars, but also manage to inject their pop star ambitions with live musicians, real singing, and classy, timeless fashion. Sorry Lady Gaga, but the meat dress is pretty lame next to Mayer Hawthorne’s red tuxedo.
Stage Presence: A+
Set / Light Show: A-