Apparently, Mayer Hawthorne is taking this neo-soul thing seriously.
When he rolled through Larryville in late 2010 with just one record under his belt, you had to wonder whether this kid’s journey into Motown was real or if it was just a cheeky and ironic hipster wink. I mean, he had already carved out a pretty nice little niche for himself in LA as Haircut, a hip hop DJ, so it wouldn’t have been surprising to find out that Mr. Hawthorne donned the tight sport coat and hit the high notes just for something to do on the side.
Whatever it may have started out as, at this point there’s no doubt that Mayer Hawthorne is all in.
And he proved it to a 2/3 full house at the Granada Monday night – not bad considering school just got out.
Most noticeably, Hawthorne’s vocals were much stronger. In the past- and in particular on his first record, A Strange Arrangement– the singer’s voice was criticized as “thin,” “reedy,” and “technically poor.” It was kind of like, what’s this white kid trying to pull here? You don’t sing soul unless you’ve got mad pipes, son!
Hawthorne took his critics to task on Monday night, showing off a much improved tone and strength in his voice, especially apparent on swooping high falsetto runs that confidently drifted and darted up above the staff. His band seemed to be tighter, too, which consisted of drums, keys, bass, guitar, and a DJ on the side punching in some pre-recorded horns and beats. And as always, Hawthorne brought his unabashed lady’s man vibe to the theater with polished stage banter to keep the crowd engaged.
Sometimes, it was almost too polished, as if every single gesture and word was mapped out in advance. Probably because it was.
“Hey, I like to write love songs, fuck it,” he explained about four songs into the set. “But sometimes it’s not about love, you just want to have some disconnected sex.”
The crowd agreed as Hawthorne and his band launched into No Strings, off his latest release How Do You Do, complete with synchronized dance moves from the band.
And he hit plenty of crowd favorites while playing Arrangement almost in its entirety, including Make Her Mine, Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’, Shiny & New, I Wish it Would Rain, Green Eyed Love, Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out, The Ills, and Maybe So Maybe No.
But the highlight of the night was probably the bouncy and super catchy Dreaming, which morphed easily into a cool cover of Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True.
For the encore, Hawthorne emerged from backstage with a bottle of Hennessey and a bottle of ginger ale. He mixed up four or five cups of the potion and handed several to audience members, saving one for himself, of course, as the band vamped on the intro to the final track off of How Do You Do, appropriately titled Henny & Gingerale. The song prompted a sing-along that was incited by Hawthorne before each band member soloed. The guitar player was allowed some room to really open up and delivered a ripping solo that raised a few eyebrows after he had been relegated to rhythm figures most of the night.
The set was short and to the point, but not in a bad way. That’s kind of just the style of Hawthorne’s catchy pop-soul – it lends itself to three minute love songs and doesn’t apologize for treading the line between being slyly cool and jumping on the retro bandwagon.