AUSTIN, Texas -- Classic Detroit soul, both new and old, made for one of the hottest gigs on Friday night (March 19) at the South By Southwest Music + Media Festival.
Though he lives in Los Angeles now, Mayer Hawthorne was still billed as being from Ann Arbor in the SXSW literature and certainy wore Motown on his sleeve during his 35-minute opening slot for the AOl & Spinner Soul Revue at the Austin Music Hall that also featured Hitsville hero Smokey Robinson. Sporting a red Izod cardigan and tie and backed by his nattily attired quartet the County, the 31-year-old Hawthorne (real name Andrew Mayer Cohen) offered an old school exposition with modern energy that celebrated the success of his 2009 debut album, "A Strange Arrangement," along with a few surprises.
Following a James Brown opening tape, Hawthorne and company kicked things off with the light-hearted, melodic beat of "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin' " and spent 35 minutes showcasing the album -- including the hit single "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" and the falsetto-flaunting "Make Her Mine."
Hawthorne teased at one point that he "never heard of (Robinson) until tonight," then had the band play a snippet of "Don't Mess With Bill" before it jammed into his own "One Track Mind." Hawthorne also spiced the set with covers of Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" and N.E.R.D.'s "Fly or Die" before closing with a particularly joyous treatment of "The Ills."
Hawthorne and the County played a second show, a wee-hours gig at the smaller club Mohawk, which benefited from a little more time that allowed the group to stretch out and loosen up the tight arrangements it displayed at the Music Hall.
SXSW keynote speaker Robinson, meanwhile, represented soul's old guard with smoothly delivered set that had the crowd, which had grown considerably from Hawthorne's set, eating out of his hands. Though he did nod to his latest album, 2009's "Time Flies When You're Having Fun," with a performance of "Time Flies" and included some later-career hits such as "Being With You," "Just to See Her," "A Quiet Storm" and "Cruisin'," Robinson was mostly in vintage Motown mode, opening with a slightly tentative "Going to a Go Go" and then picking up the pace -- and the audience energy -- with fare such as "I Second That Emotion," "You Really Got a Hold on Me" and "Ooo Baby Baby," responding to the rapturous response for the latter by quipping "We should have played that first."
Robinson, still charismatic and polished at 70, also regaled the Soul Revue audience with Motown stories, chatting about the camaraderie at the legendary Detroit label, his work with the Temptations -- which led into performances of "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Get Ready" and "My Girl" -- and describing his collaboration with Stevie Wonder on "Tears of a Clown."
"I'm having a ball right now," Robinson said after the latter. So was the crowd.
Special writer Panfilo Garcia contributed to this report.
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