"This is a show, not a concert! I want to get that straight right now!" Mayer Hawthorne says after he and his band The County have torn through a white-hot version of Maybe So, Maybe No. As far as statements of intent go, his opening words are nothing but honest.
From the moment Hawthorne came bounding on-stage he was the consummate frontman, always addressing the crowd with grace and good humour - even free-pouring Hennessey into the front row's upheld beer glasses at one point - while he led his impressive four-piece band through a set peppered with covers ranging from Snoop Dogg to The Doobie Brothers. The County were genuine showmen too, from the bass player with his LMFAO-styled haircut and leopard-skin towel to the seriously bad-ass drummer, whose vibrant playing gave the songs a driving, exciting backbone. Most of the time that is, as there was an awkward 10-minute stretch of over-egged blue-eyed soul where even he couldn't stop them sounding more like The Eagles than Steely Dan. However, the audience didn't seem to care, lapping up everything Hawthorne laid down, including an inspired take on Snoop's Gangsta Luv and an underwhelming limp through Dilla's Jeedo Suave.
There's a reason we were prepared to humour him the odd stumble though, and it's important I labour this: Hawthorne and his band had already won us over. He had us eating out of the palm of his hand thanks to storming renditions of Just Ain't Gonna Work Out, Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin', The Ills, The Walk and Long Time, with songs blending into one another, synchronised dance-steps from the band and plenty of crowd interaction. That was one of the great surprises of the evening: how many folks knew the words, singing along to almost everything, including I Wish It Would Rain, the B-side of that famous heart-shaped debut single.
The other great surprise was the quality of Hawthorne's singing voice. He cops a lot of flak over this, with negative comparisons to his old label mate Aloe Blacc and question marks over his credibility even singing soul music. Let's set the record straight, shall we? Mayer Hawthorne can sing. He can really sing. He hit all the high notes and seemed to genuinely engage with each and every song. He also engaged with a huge number of punters, if the deliriously ass-shaking crowd on the night - and Facebook comments ("I Heart Mayer", "Swoooon!", etc) the morning after the show - are anything to go by.
Hawthorne claims to make "soul music for hip hop heads", and that's important: this wasn't a soul revue or a retro-styled throwback concert. This was simple, uncomplicated fun, and we could all do with more of that.
Who: Mayer Hawthorne
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: Thursday 23 February