Every year when the calendar hits June, signaling the official start of summer, the weather heats up as temperatures rise across the country.
For those of us living on LA’s Westside though, that rarely ever seems to be the case these days. “May Gray” is often followed by “June Gloom,” and July forecasts aren’t always that much better. Chalk it up to climate change if you want, but the summer months in LA are feeling less and less like, well, summer now.
Take last Thursday’s show at the Santa Monica Pier for instance. With the wind picking up by the time the sun had set over the Pacific Ocean, it felt more like a night in late March than one in early July. And you could tell those who weren’t wise enough to pack a sweatshirt or jacket were definitely kicking themselves shortly after alt-R&B singer Alina Baraz’s opening set.
But even if the conditions didn’t exactly exude summer in simply a climatic sense, the annual Twilight Concert Series has always served as a helpful reminder for Angelinos that the season — whether (or “weather” in this case) it feels like it or not — is officially here. So, what better way to kick off 10 straight weeks of free live music at the beach than with Grammy-nominated artist Mayer Hawthorne?
The neo-soul singer-songwriter has come a long way since Peanut Butter Wolf signed him to his LA-based label Stone Throw Records more than a decade ago. At the time, Hawthorne had just moved to the City of Angels from his native Michigan after spending a number of years as a hip-hop DJ, most notably during the Detroit scene’s height thanks to trailblazers like J Dilla and Eminem. But he also brought his longstanding affection for Motown with him to LA and has remained true to those roots from that day forward.
If LA was ever seeking its own version of Smokey Robinson, Hawthorne (born Andrew Mayer Cohen) wouldn’t be a bad choice. His sound may even be worthy of a comparison to Shuggie Otis, the “Strawberry Letter 23” hitmaker from LA who achieved commercial success during the mid-70’s. Yet, as he demonstrated for a packed crowd in Santa Monica, Hawthorne is as much the sum of his influences as he is his own entity.
Everything about Hawthorne’s onstage persona feels genuinely throwback. As his bandmates took their places, the “other mayor of Santa Monica” — as the city’s own Tony Vazquez coined him in between sets — followed behind, dressed as if he were playing the lead in a 1950’s film noir. He sat down next to his guitar at what looked like a makeshift bar and poured himself a drink, calmly sipping it before stepping to the mic and delivering more than an hour-long set that eclectically maneuvered between funk, soul, rock and reggae. He even dished out covers of Aerosmith (“Walk This Way”) and Brenton Wood (“Gimme Little Sign”) at one point during the show, electrifying an already enthusiastic bunch of spectators standing on the pier while plenty of others watched down below from the sand.
Hawthorne, after all, is a showman in every sense of the word. In this day and age in which it doesn’t take more than a laptop computer with prerecorded material and a couple visualizers to entertain an audience, he remains content doing things the old-fashioned way — through honest songwriting and soulful melodies. For someone with six studio albums (including his latest Man About Town from earlier this year) already tucked away in their pocket, that’s still something worth celebrating on a chilly summer night in Southern California.
Breakfast in Bed
Back Seat Lover
The Only One
Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin
Get You Back
I Wish It Would Rain
Lingerie & Candlewax
Do It (Tuxedo song)
Walk This Way (Aerosmith cover)
The Walk/Gimme a Little Sign (Brenton Wood cover)
Love Like That
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears cover)