Hunter Hayes w/ Ashley Monroe and Striking Matches
Tuesday, June 18
Better Than: The shows my band was playing when I was his age.
It can be tough playing a two-hour headlining set when you only have one album to your name—at one point you might have to play a couple of the snoozers, your encore might be reduced to a cover of Maroon 5’s “This Love”—but big artists can make it work. By this admittedly arbitrary definition, at least, Hunter Hayes last night announced himself as a big artist, even if the new Fame Monster-style deluxe reissue of his 2011 self-titled major label debut, the release of which provided the occasion for this rare Manhattan show, technically bumps his count to one and a half.
Born under Bush I, Hayes’s first high-profile gig involved playing accordion for Bill Clinton on the White House lawn, and by Bush II he was already courting a much more reliable audience, singing “Hey Good Lookin'” on reality television program America’s Most Talented Kids. Here in Obama’s second term, his baby face, spiked hair, and puffy cheeks suggest he could still pass as a contestant, giving him another venue through which he could woo teenagers who manage to make him look old.
So yes, Hayes is that kind of country—pop country, country rock, the kind of country that includes an encore cover of Maroon 5—but believe me when I tell you that he’s no less for it. After all, that kind of country, despite the façade, has roots a half century deep, down to the time when clean-cut newcomers like Sonny James and George Hamilton IV courted World War II babies with soft, rock and doo wop-touched, hillbilly-free songs like “Young Love” and “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.”
There was nothing so direct at last night’s show, but nothing needed to be. Striking Matches, a male/female duo with two songs on Nashville and four on a promising self-titled EP, opened, and Ashley Monroe, the warm-voiced Pistol Annie who wears her traditionalist tendency’s on—at least for this show—her bell-bottomed one-piece quickly followed with selections from her new Like a Rose and the title track of 2006’s shelved Satisfied. A hit particularly among parent chaperones and the author, Monroe got the biggest response from her closing take on Miranda Lambert co-write “Heart Like Mine” but had remained consistent from opener “Two Weeks Late” on, complimenting that vocal warmth and reinforcing that trad cred by playing alongside an upright bass.
Hayes, though, was billed as the star and acted the part, running around and singing from corners as if he had been preparing on (or practicing for) arena stages significantly bigger than that of Webster Hall. After opening with new one, “A Thing About You,” and following a path that included old one “Storm Warning” (possibly his best), the 21 year-old hit his stride when he followed the tender “If You Want Me To” with the unexpectedly upbeat “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” and chart-topping “Somebody’s Heartbreak.”
About a half hour later, Hayes moved to piano to play a track he contributed to the Act of Valor and his tender, unexpectedly upbeat, chart-topping closer, “Wanted,” before returning to encore with, as I may have mentioned, Maroon 5’s “This Love.” But here’s the trouble with playing a two-hour headlining set after releasing only one–or even one and a half–albums: After Hayes left the stage, even the diehards couldn’t think of any more songs for him to play, and so by the time he cued up Levine & co.’s opening piano riff, half the crowd was down the stairs and out the door.
Random Notebook Dump: The second show I’ve been to this year where people were crying tears, but unlike at Governors Ball, these were tears of joy.