Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

The vintage soundtrack for all your shopping needs: Mayer Hawthorne and the County wow the Westfield Culver City

October 19, 2009 |  6:19 pm

Westfield Culver City is the quintessential late 20th century American mall. A sprawling, multilevel maze of everything from a Cinnabon to a Radio Shack, the mall formerly known as Fox Hills also has a bit of an unfortunate history, and has recently undergone a massive transformation.

In an effort to revitalize the shopping center to reflect the improvements in the area, a reported $180 million was sunk into the recent transformation of the Westfield Culver City. All of which made the free KCRW-sponsored concert by emerging soul sensation Mayer Hawthorne an improbably special event.

Mall concerts have been historically predominated by industry-driven potential teen sensations (see Tiffany’s fame-generating “The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour” of 1987). But on Saturday, an impressive crowd of fans and unsuspecting shoppers alike found themselves enthralled with Hawthorne's snappy, Motown-inspired blue-eyed soul.

It was a scene that seemed inspired by the 1996 movie “That Thing You Do!” Backed by a band dubbed the County -- its members all nattily dressed in matching suits -- Hawthorne took the stage assembled in the shadow of the Macy's entrance. With a humble confidence, the Ann Arbor, Mich., native and current L.A. resident delivered a well-honed show that pulled generously from his debut album, “A Strange Arrangement,” released on stellar L.A. indie imprint Stones Throw records.

Mixing such uptempo pop numbers as “Maybe So, Maybe No” with falsetto-powered ballads such as “I Wish It Would Rain,” Hawthorne proved himself an able performer. He was able to get hundreds of people in a mall to put their hands in the air for a tribute to late Detroit musicians J Dilla and Titus "Baatin" Glover during a cover of the Slum Village song “Fall in Love” (both were members of Slum Village).

Hawthorne even broke out an old-school “talk box” hooked up to a keyboard to produce the robotic vocals for an inspired version of Electric Light Orchestra’s 1978 hit “Mr. Blue Sky.”

But it was such Hawthorne originals as “One Track Mind” and “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” that really shined, their familiar, classic pop structures eliciting excited dance moves from small children and senior-leaning mall-walkers alike.

Generating a standing ovation and encore at the end of the nearly hour-long set, Hawthorne and his band were then besieged by a mob of fans and well-wishers for pictures and autographs, doing a brisk business at the merchandise table in the process.

“These are the moments that are really special to me,” Hawthorne said at one point in the show, to the snickers of a few band members and even some members of the audience, given the setting. “No, I’m serious,” Hawthorne countered, and he was right.

Instead of preaching to the converted at a late-night club show, Hawthorne was playing his music to the real masses in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon, winning new fans the old-fashioned way.

-- Photo and post by  Scott T. Sterling