The last time we saw Mayer Hawthorne at the Fillmore Miami Beach, he donned a proper suit, bowtie, and his signature black-framed spectacles. When we saw him last night opening for OneRepublic at the Hard Rock Live, he'd traded in his dapper, clean-cut charm for a five o'clock shadow and a pair of jorts.
Without his glasses, the soulful crooner might blend in more with a crowd, and the mini pompadour he's been rocking does call to mind a couple other R&B bros on the radio right now, but his music and performance were no less distinctive. The Los Angeles via Detroit singer-songwriter still has the musical chops to back his #1 debuts on the iTunes R&B/Soul charts. He's a multi-instrumentalist with serious production skills, he's got a decade of DJing under his belt, and a vinyl collection that numbers in the thousands.
In a recent interview, Mayer described his latest album, Where Does This Door Go, as "Music that is designed to be listened to on a boat." Sadly, we weren't on one, but when we closed our eyes, it wasn't hard to imagine the punchy basslines and pitch-perfect falsettos echoing out over the ocean from a yacht filled with some party folks just trying to get down.
The always impeccable sound and staging at Hard Rock Live lent itself well to the performance. Mayer's vocals were full and crisp with every high note ringing out just as it should, and his band was tight and energetic throughout the set, which at just around thirty minutes left us wanting more.
Even though the majority of the crowd had come for pop-rock powerhouse OneRepublic, they were receptive to Mayer and his grittier brand of "blue-eyed soul" music. They laughed at his brief quips between songs, when he'd pause to recollect his bitchy ex-girlfriend or remind the audience they can download all of his music illegally. It also helped that the crowd was a lot younger than the usual range of people you might find on a typical night out at the casino.
Since Where Does This Door Go came out just last month, they played mostly newer songs: "Backseat Lover," the first single "Her Favorite Song," and "Crime," which features the only guest appearance on the album, rising Compton rap star Kendrick Lamar. Older tracks like the jazzy hip-hop tune "The Walk" off of last year's How Do You Do reminded us why we loved the guy so much to begin with.
Mayer Hawthorne has the uncanny ability to keep making music that's consistently fresh; each song is like a perfectly wrapped present, and inside is a gift you never grow tired of. When he gets on stage, something about his presence is so natural and easy, it's like a little magic happens. And when the giant white sheet casting larger-than-life shadows of OneRepublic rocking out on their first song finally cascaded down to the floor, it revealed a band of dudes who were just trying way too hard.