At first, Bruno Mars seemed an unlikely pop star. There he was, suddenly, in the summer of 2010: a pint-sized, fedora-wearing, ex-Elvis impersonator born Peter Hernandez, his stage name partially derived from an Italian wrestler known for his smothering bear-hug. He started as a successful songwriter with the absurdly named three-man production team the Smeezingtons (the brains behind Cee Lo's "Fuck You"), but found mainstream solo success thanks to a pair of hook-slinging guest-vocal spots on pop cuts ("Nothin' on You," "Billionaire") from B-level rappers (B.o.B, Travie McCoy). That he subsequently scored his own No.
"This is gonna be a long night," Mayer Hawthorne said to the packed crowd at Webster Hall Thursday night after set-opener "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'," a knee-shaking nod to the Temptations. Flashing a cheeky grin as light reflected off his thick-framed Buddy Holly spectacles, he then confessed, "I got goosebumps. I mean, c'mon, it's New York City." True. But any anxiety the 31-year-old Hawthorne (born Andrew Mayer Cohen) harbored on the opening date of his U.S. tour quickly dissipated into the curtain behind him and his four-piece band, the County. The singer, a leader in the recent White Soul Boy Invasion with his SPIN-approved debut album, A Strange Arrangement, strutted around center-stage with tambourine in-hand, wooing the audience with vintage Motown melodies delivered with confidence and silky-smooth style. He dressed the part, too.