Mayer Hawthorne Lends Throwback Feel to KCRW’s Apogee Sessions

Mayer Hawthorne Lends Throwback Feel to
Larry Hirshowitz

KCRW’s Apogee Sessions, named after the Santa Monica recording studio where these intimate performances/chats take place, remain one of the more sought-after tickets in a town where live music is so ubiquitous it’s almost bewildering.

For one thing, they’re largely invite-only affairs, which makes them hard to take for granted. They’re also highly concentrated — not just in terms of capacity, which is 180 people max — but also the shows themselves, which are usually over not much more than 90 minutes after the doors have opened.

The latest installment, which took place Monday night and will air April 8 on KCRW, featured retro-soul frontman Mayer Hawthorne, who mixed select cuts from his upcoming studio album, “Man About Town,” his fourth, with material from previous works.

If one were to draw a parallel between Hawthorne and the heroes who influenced him, it would lead directly to Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, whose webcast, “Live From Daryl’s House,” featured Hawthorne singing a lush version of “A Strange Arrangement,” the title tune from his debut LP, in a 2011 episode. It was as if Hall was passing the baton to a younger version of himself.

Like Hall’s, Hawthorne’s voice is pliable enough, managing to hit the falsetto notes on such tunes as “Designer Drug,” a bonus track from Hawthorne’s third studio album, “Where Does This Door Go” and “Cosmic Love,” a kind of slow-burn track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Curtis Mayfield record. Hawthorne’s five-piece band, including JimiJames on backup vocals, ably transitioned from R&B to reggae to rock, with the singer at one point quoting Brenton Wood’s “Just Gimme Some Kind of Sign” as a way of cementing the evening’s throw-back feel.

As is his wont, Apogee host Jason Bentley made this a fanboy lovefest, peppering Hawthorne with questions both professional and personal, making it clear he’s been following the Ann Arbor, Mich., transplant’s career since he first surfaced in 2009.

“When I’m deejaying, my ultimate goal is to get people to move,” Hawthorne told Bentley about a profession he practiced for 10 years before launching his career as a solo artist, and which he continues to hone at such events as the just-wrapped SXSW music fest in Austin, Texas.

“It definitely helps when I put my albums together,” Hawthorne added about the discipline. “Every song transitions into the next. I sequence them as if in a deejay set.”

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