Mayer Hawthorne Brings the Soul Brigade to Oakland + Photos


Photos by Kola Shobo
Words by Brandon Diaz

As if Oakland needed any more soul, they sure got it from Mayer Hawthorne‘s stellar performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland’s Uptown district.

The evening began with a brief but lively performance from curly-haired songstress, Gavin Turek, who strode about the stage with Tina Turner flair in a stunning lavender dress. As the theater filled, Danish soul duo Quadron stole swoons from the packed house as vocalist Coco O. took center stage with a stunning sequined ensemble and ruby red lips.

Their 45-minute set was filled with lively songs from 2013’s Avalanche, all ears clinging to Coco’s angelic voice, eyes affixed to her striking pant-suit dress and tasteful fingerwaves. Sans producer Robin Hannibal (technically one-half of the band), Quadron held attention as they ran through a set that included “LFT,” “Sea Salt,” and a breathtaking cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.”

And as that sweet perfume of soul music washed the crowd, Quadron finished, allowing Mayer Hawthorne and his backing four-piece band to bring the funk.
Emerging from a glowing broken heart at center stage, the Detroit-area native brought a convivial night of neo-Motown to the Fox. Sporting a royal blue two-button suit and a pair of Nike Air-Max sneakers, Hawthorne lead his band through a nonstop set of grooves that kept hands in the air with continuous jams from his sing-a-long songbook.

He hastily got the crowd moving with Hall and Oates-esque “Back Seat Lover,” which seamlessly lead into “A Long Time” from 2010’s How Do You Do. Hardly pausing for breath (or water breaks), Hawthorne and his band plowed through his collection of classic R&B stylings, sprinkling in synchronized dance steps reticent of an evening with Morris Day and the Time.

The twenty-something song set list spanned 90 minutes and Hawthorne’s entire catalog, keeping the audience in a jovial pulse with interpretations of Doo-Wop meets tongue-and-cheek pop. At no point was the crowd short on surprises as Hawthorne and clan broke into a rendition of Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” Later, he plucked away the universally recognizable riff from Aerosmith and Run DMC’s “Walk This Way” on a gorgeous white Gibson Les Paul guitar that lead into his hit, “The Walk.”

“This song was written about my ex-girlfriend,” Hawthorne told the crowd before declaring said girlfriend a “b*tch;” the room went nuts. Everyone sang with enthused voices the cathartic refrain, “You can walk your long legs baby right out of my life.”
Throughout the show, Hawthorne’s approach to the stage was playful and nonchalant. His saucy stage presence and borrowed moves didn’t come across as cheesy or trite, but charming.

During “Get to Know You,” with his back to the audience, Hawthorne tossed his jacket to the ground in a move seen countless times on pop tours around the world. But like his music, it was a move executed in slight jest. The guy doesn’t take himself too seriously – the dude opened his encore with “Playing Your Game, Baby” – a Barry White cover, executed with robust success.

As the neon broken-heart at the backdrop of the stage suggested, the songs performed were nearly all about love-lost in some form, and the audience got to purge their woes in tandem with the singer. He lead to a close with crowd pleaser, “It Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” which found every voice in the room participating in musical group therapy – a cacophony of voices declaring to that not-special someone, “I’m sorry/ It just ain’t workin’ out.”

And as the Fox Theater wrapped around a stellar live execution of music and performance, Mayer Hawthorne kept it light at the end with the more contemporary R&B tune – and my personal fave – ”Her Favorite Song.” During the song’s elongated breakdown he thanked the crowd before standing behind his lyrics and imploring all in attendance to do as he did; So we reached to the imaginary dust on our shoulders, and then with cool confidence, shook it all off and danced until the lights came up.