One of the beauties of Summerfest is that a music lover can start listening to one unique brand of music, walk 50 steps in another direction and hear a completely different genre or sound. It's even better when the experience can happen without having to move from a single stage, like it did Sunday night at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard with Motown-infused crooner Mayer Hawthorne and experimental musician Tune-Yards.
Mayer Hawthorne, accompanied by his band The County, is the latest in pop culture's recent obsession with '60s retro. While "Mad Men" currently owns the retro TV market (just ask NBC's failed attempt to cash-in, "The Playboy Club"), the music scene has plenty of Motown-influenced acts grabbing the spotlight. The late Amy Winehouse, Raphael Saddiq and most recently Bruno Mars have all found success by going back to the past's soulful, jazzy sound.
It'd be easy for Hawthorne to get lost in the shuffle, but instead, he has grown in popularity since his 2009 debut album, "A Strange Arrangement." Some of the credit could go to some glowing high-profile recommendations, including John Mayer and Snoop Dogg, who duets with the crooner on "Can't Stop" off of Hawthorne's latest album, "How Do You Do."
Saying that, however, would take away from Hawthorne's smooth and authentic Motown sound, which was on display during their spry and energetic Summerfest set. The band seamlessly bounded between songs, such as the bouncy "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'," the groovy "The Walk" and the sultry smooth "No Strings."
Much of the group's success belongs to their figurehead, Mayer Hawthorne. Decked out in a grey patterned suit with matching shorts and a bow tie, the lead singer enthralled the crowd with his effortless charm. In between numbers, he told clever little anecdotes that perfectly led into the next song, including a goofy story about a Bootsy Collins tweet that segued into the funky "Love in Motion."
His natural showmanship helped cover the set's few flaws as well. While the lead guitarist went backstage after "I Wish It Would Rain" to have his earpiece fixed (which seemed to be giving him fits throughout the first half of the show), Hawthorne announced that he would be giving the crowd some "picture time" and proceeded to strike several goofy poses with his band mates.
The front man doesn't have the most powerful voice, but his fun audience interactions and stage persona makes his few vocal failings easy to forgive. His pitch perfect falsetto, which he showed off to great effect on the ridiculously flirty "Shiny & New," helped matters as well.
After Hawthorne's sizzling set, the packed crowd at the Big Backyard travelled back to the future thanks to an electric set by Tune-Yards that struck like musical lightning. Getting her start in 2009 with "Bird-Brains," the experimental electro-infused afro-jazz fusion (that's the shortest description possible for her genre-defying tunes) artist Merrill Garbus has found a following thanks to her music's strangely addictive energy and layered sound.
A common problem with electronic live acts is the complex beats, instruments and sounds that make the music so vibrant and fun are hard to synchronize and perfectly balance on stage. Garbus manages to keep her albums' eclectic sound mixtures with the help of looping pedals, a bassist and two sax players.
While Hawthorne is a natural performer, Garbus is more of a quiet technician. Her few interactions were somewhat stiff, including a unheralded request for the crowd to jump during "Party Can" (a difficult task while standing on Summerfest benches), and she doesn't get to move much during her songs since she must be close to her drum loop pedals.
When it comes to the utterly original music, however, it's hard to complain at all. Her fascinating singing style ranges from chill spoken word ("Killa") to intensely raw yells ("Riotriot"), and the intricate music has a kind of pounding, propulsive tribal energy that gets in the listener's bones.
There's an exciting sense of creation watching Tune-Yards piece together a song into an orchestra of organized chaos. "Gangsta," one of the night's biggest hits, slowly evolved from a couple of drumbeats into an ingenious mixture of coordinated beats, notes and chants before the audience's eyes.
Tune-Yards and her predecessor Mayer Hawthorne have very little in common musically, but Sunday night, they shared one similarity: They made the packed crowd's ears remarkably happy.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by OnMilwaukee.com Staff Writers
Published Feb. 24, 2017
The great Milwaukee weekend is here. Are you ready? You are now! Make it a great one! Get this in your inbox every Thursday.
Published Feb. 23, 2017
Walking up to the Riverside Theater, all you could see was a swarm of people lined up along the river, dressed in outrageous outfits, homemade shirts and eccentric accessories. It was clear: "The Price is Right" had taken over.
Published Feb. 22, 2017
Whether you're a soccer player, sports fan or community advocate looking for a fun way to give back, all are welcome to come together and improve the quality of life of Milwaukee's children in the 2017 SCORES CUP Charity Indoor Soccer Tournament.
Published Feb. 21, 2017
Roger Waters, one of the key original members of Pink Floyd, will bring his solo "Us + Them" tour to Milwaukee's BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday, July 29.
Published Feb. 19, 2017
When it comes to bars, Milwaukee dominates, offering everything from comfy taverns to posh clubs. Once again, OnMilwaukee will celebrate the city's hearty and diverse drinking culture with Bar Month, including your chance to vote for your favorites in the 2017 Best Bars poll.
Published Feb. 18, 2017
You may look at National Drink Wine Day as just another day, but for us it is an opportunity to partake in some great pours and more. Sip away at these options in this edition of the OnMilwaukee WeWant.
Published Feb. 18, 2017
When I Will Not Die Young co-founder Muhibb Dyer learned that his organization had received $25,000 from Milwaukee-born Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, he thought it was a prank, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reports.
Published Feb. 17, 2017
With a variety of restaurants located conveniently near ski hills, snowmobile trails and more, winter is the perfect time for a warm Wisconsin-style meal. Here are five snowy Wisconsin supper club hot spots.
Published Feb. 16, 2017
February 17 is National Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it couldn't come at a better time for the country, because anytime is a great time to be kind. If you're looking for a special occasion to do something particularly nice, now is your opportunity, Milwaukee.
Published Feb. 13, 2017
Cupids and chocolates are fine, but to spread the local and cheesy love send one of these free Brew City Valentines to your sweetheart.