All words: Jeb Gavin
All photos: Eric Uhlir
Hey, dummy! Why aren’t you listening to more soul music? Granted, if you’re reading this review you were either at the Mayer Hawthorne show Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club, or you’re my editor. Either way, you’re probably already hip to what should be obvious, especially this coming summer: soul is back, and I cannot figure out where it went in the first place.
The show itself, was as always, whip smart. My last experience watching Hawthorne play was at the Black Cat. That show was grimier, with the band crammed on a stage half as large, in a room three times smaller. In the 9:30 Club, with his backing band clad in three piece suits and spread evenly across the stage, last night’s show had the polish and refinement of a James Brown set… if Brown had been a goofy white guy in a crushed velvet jacket and bowtie. At one point, Mayer stopped the show so that his drummer could take a picture of him sitting in front of the audience, and then spent a full minute posing so that the audience could take pictures of him. There was a sort of carefree joy to everything that happened up on stage. No need to grind through the hits. Even the funkier moments, the Eddie Hazel-worthy guitar runs were light and playful, and the organ and drum work was suitably intense without weighing down the overall sound.
It’s not like soul doesn’t appeal to everyone. Walking around the room you could see middle aged couples slow dancing not 10 feet from kids grinding against one another. Everyone was getting down; even my rhythm-less ass can dance to the sweet, mellow-tempo’d music. If you don’t get soul, it’s likely you don’t have a soul.
I’ve always found myself partitioning soul music by which emotion is best expressed. Sexier soul borders on funk. Danceable soul approaches disco. The more electronic-tinged soul could very easily be a more complicated form of Chicago house. Reverent soul is often confused with gospel, which feels obvious considering the latter spawned the former. Mayer’s flavor of neo-soul is practically effervescent, with its doo-wop harmonies and songs about love, he actually had to make a point to indicate when a song was ONLY about having sex.
But etymology aside, I’m not going to bore anyone (or further prove myself a fool) by trying to define soul music for anyone. I do know despite the overpowering influence on nearly every variation of popular music in the past 50 years, soul music is sadly underrated and overlooked, even after seeing Hawthorne play to a capacity crowd. This was a solid show, let no one say otherwise. And yet, I worry, even with the resurgence of soul in pop music, these shows are going to get fewer and farther between, no matter how popular Hawthorne’s music becomes.
Soul deserves better than to be permanently relegated to underground status. All I can do is beg and plead: buy a friend a Prince album. Listen to Janelle Monae. Get Bobby Womack’s new album when it comes out in June (I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this one). Demand to hear JC Brooks on the radio. Hell, even D’Angelo is touring again. You’re doing something wrong f soul isn’t the foundation of your jams this summer. Oh, and go see Mayer Hawthorne as soon as you can. Bring a dance partner.