Mayer Hawthorne 2.11.14

Ogden Theatre
Denver, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)

A couple of years ago, I was driving to work and heard "The Walk" on KBCO. I thought the tune was unusual with a sound that reminded me of old Motown, but had lyrics that were certainly not the Temptations fare. The clean R&B song seemed oddly antiquated, yet had a modern edge that intrigued me. I downloaded Mayer Hawthorne's album and got familiar with a couple of songs. Then I forgot about the would- be crooner. A few months ago I stumbled on a track on iTunes and noticed that he had released a new effort. I downloaded that one as well and decided to see if he was touring. Tuesday night, I entered the Ogden Theater and got a chance to see what this Neo-soul stuff was all about.

The opener, Quadrant, shared a similar stylistic flair and made sense as the musical pairing. DJ Kurse was spinning some great funk between sets, and when the lights went down, a giant neon broken heart appeared on the stage with a door in it. The band began with some big band funk before introducing the man of the hour. Hawthorne made his entrance with all the swagger of Tony Bennett or Wayne Newton, grabbing the mic and working the crowd. Quickly he moved into his repertoire and quickly I realized I was watching a truly talented troubadour. His stage presence was astounding. He flirted with the audience, bounced them to the beat like an air basketball and used his basic choreography to pepper in performance influences from half a century of music.

The County was Hawthorne's band, and they dropped studio-perfect accompaniment to the crooner. They laid down a variety of styles throughout the night and truly impressed me with their abilities. Rock and roll, soul, funk, hip hop, doo-wop, R&B, rap, jazz, and lounge music all applied. An audience member told me that he started as a rapper, but rather than paying royalties to sample someone else's tunes, he started writing his own R&B backing tracks. That explained the hip hop edge, and really was what drew me in. Like a Frank Sinatra album produced by Snoop, the classy surface had a gangster undertone and balanced his softer side with some bumpin' beats.

Hawthorne's voice was silky smooth, like his suit, like his band. He exuded charisma and was a captivating performer through the 90 minute set of doo-hop. His use of covers was also notable. The two covers that caught me off guard were "Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" which served as an intro to "The Walk." Their execution was spot on. Another crowd pleaser was "Allie Jones." It started with a reggae rhythm, but soon slid from Reggae to hip hop. As Mayer got our hands in the air, the band dropped some heavy beats that had knees buckling and heads nodding. "Allie Jones" was one of many MH songs I wasn't familiar with, but liked on a first listen. Sometimes a concert of material I don't know leaves me distracted or disinterested, but Mayer was solid from beginning to end as he covered all the stuff I knew and a whole lot more.

Mayer Hawthorne was one of the most entertaining shows I've seen in a hot minute. Really.

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