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TAS Live Review: The Heavy and Mayer Hawthorne At Bowery...

The Heavy

The Heavy

by

The recent boom in revival artists carries the looming question of how to write music that acknowledges the past while still sounding fresh and original. Last Sunday at the Bowery Ballroom, October 17, was a good representation of this conundrum: a night of soul renaissance featuring The Heavy and Mayer Hawthorne and The County.

Mayer Hawthorne was up first, perfecting his deliberate vibe of laid-back coolness. He aims to combine the look of Buddy Holly with the falsetto croon of Curtis Mayfield, but with the edge of having grown up near urban Detroit. His four-piece band (in matching red cardigans) backed him up with doo-wop harmonies as guitarist Topher Mohr led with tight, on-point playing. Hawthorne tapped along on his tambourine and synthesizer while making eyes at the audience. Everything felt planned, down to the red microphone stand that matched his Nike sneakers.

While his music drips with throwback style, its content approaches love and dating in a way that is utterly modern. Songs like "No Strings" and "A Strange Arrangement" advocate the "friends-with-benefits" relationship you probably wouldn't find Mayfield singing about 70s. This, then, seems to be Hawthorne's major appeal. The crowd was on board, diligently cheering when Hawthorne asked for all the single people to "raise your hands and look around. Now you know who to buy a drink or ask to dance." He reminisced about an ex-girlfriend before launching into his single, "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out." Hawthorne managed to appear honest without sounding schmaltzy, like during the premiere of a new song (potentially called "Still Thinking of You") that will come out on his almost-finished next record.

Headliners The Heavy (the bands switched opening and headlining rolls for the following night's show) burst on to the stage as lead singer/hype man Kelvin Swaby buzzed, "We good, NYC?" Wearing a shirt and tie that he would tear off by the next song, Swaby dove into the opening song, "Short Change Hero," as if in anticipation of the craziness that would ensue during their set. He would be partly right; the crowd had thinned by the time The Heavy played, but produced more energy and excitement than the whole room had for Hawthorne. I think that makes both bands' receptions somehow equal.

The Heavy played as an 8-piece ensemble, complete with three horns and two model-like backup singers. Swaby had a hip-hop swagger and the yowl of a Zeppelin-era Robert Plant, with dirty horns and funky beats behind him. One moment, he said things to his audience like, "I'm going to take you all like virgins," and the next, he took the hand of a woman in the front row to gingerly spin her around. Swaby didn't pretend to be gentlemanly, and was even, admittedly, kind of raunchy at times ("Nothing clean in this band," he said), but pulled it all off with a charming delivery. Their set effortlessly wove elements of reggae, soul, R&B, ska and rock n' roll; at one point, they broke into The Kinks' "All Day and All Of The Night" in the middle of a song. "She Got To Go," in the style of a Civil War-era folk ballad, followed by gospel-rock "Oh No! Not Your Again!!" was a fiery end to the set.

The two acts fit well together on account of their retro styles and the girl-crazy persona of both frontmen. It's difficult not to give in to comparisons, though, so I must conclude: Hawthorne's sweet-and-salty trendiness may be more easily digestible, but The Heavy's groove gets under your skin and lives there like a parasite.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6M076syWeQ]

Set list for The Heavy:
Short Change Hero
What Do You Want Me To Do?
Big Bad Wolf
Sixteen
Cause for Alarm
Coleen
Set Me Free Girl
In The Morning
That Kind of Man
No Time
She Got To Go
Oh No! Not You Again!!

Encore:
Brukpocket's Lament
How You Like Me Now?