Review: Mayer Hawthorne at the Roxy

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From KCRW Music Blog Contributor Sanjeev Sirpal:

Last week my girlfriend informed me that Friday would be the one year anniversary of the two of us meeting. Not the anniversary of when we started dating, mind you, which happened months later, but literally the anniversary of when we acknowledged each other’s existence. So, basically, my girlfriend was telling me that Friday was, well, a Friday.

But, like all good boyfriends, I indulged, since what is important to her is important to me, much like I indulged when, a few months ago, she demanded we go see one of her favorite acts, Mayer Hawthorne. I have a bunch of friends who begrudgingly get dragged to yarn conventions, Sex and the City premieres, and Vagina Monologues with their significant others, lucky for me, my girlfriend has amazing musical taste. So, for our one year anniversary of knowing each other, I got us tickets for Mayer Hawthorne’s album release party at the Roxy.

Mayer Hawthorne is a paradox. He is a combination of things that, for anyone else, would at best yield a kitschy, flash-in-the-pan “career” where one hopes to do as well as say, Snow, or Lou Bega, or those guys who sang The Macarena. The first, and most obvious is this:

Mayer Hawthorne is a white guy singing Motown.

Not R&B, not new jack swing, not even the contemporary Motown of today. I’m talking about old school, Berry Gordy, The Commodores, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, house that SOUL built Mo-town. Do you remember that movie Racing Stripes? About a zebra who wanted to win the Kentucky Derby? Mayer Hawthorne is that single-malt whiskey smooth, silky caramel-sweet zebra.

The only non-surprising thing about Hawthorne is that he hails from the same state as two other successful genre-redefining artists with dreams of winning the Derby, Eminem and Kid Rock, not to mention the birthplace of the Motown sound itself.

Subscribing to the Rick Astley School Of Misdirection, Mayer Hawthorne stepped onto the stage at the Roxy on Saturday night for the release party of his newest album “How Do You Do“, looking like he came straight from a casting session for a Hamptons episode of Gossip Girl: bright orange suit, white Wayfarer sunglasses, and bowtie. His band, The County, wore matching orange V-neck sweaters over shirts and black ties.

But from the first note of the first song, the minute he opened his mouth he legitimized everything. Where lesser bands have relied on costumed gimmickery as part of their schtick, having Mayer Hawthorne wear anything else than what he does to do what he and his band do would actually feel less genuine. It’s that honesty that elevates his game. After hearing songs like “Maybe So, Maybe No,” “No Strings,” and “I Wish It Would Rain”, songs that you know are all originals but nail the sound and style so squarely on the head you still wonder if they’re Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye covers (and vice versa, at the concert Hawthorne covered Snoop Dogg’s “Gangsta Love” and Hall and Oates “You Make My Dreams Come True” and they could very well easily have been his own) that I believe everything about him. It makes perfect sense that after shows, he hops in his white with red leather interior Cadillac, goes home to his fireplace and bear-skinned rug, gets comfortable in his velvet robe, pops open a bottle of fine Cognac, and entertains that special lady or hundred.

To say that Mayer Hawthorne and The County play baby-making music is an understatement. Listening to Mayer Hawthorne will straight up get you pregnant. With triplets.

Even his break-up songs like “The Walk”, the lead single off of “How Do You Do” and “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out“, are so smooth and cool that he could probably sing you your tax audit and you’d come out smiling.

–Sanjeev Sirpal