The audience — a mix of students here for the summer, townies and adults in their 50s and 60s — looked like they would have been at home at a Beethoven showcase. The Power Center is also a venue better suited for polite, muted applause than raucous crowds and wild dancing. Yet Mayer Hawthorne, Ann Arbor’s homegrown neo-soul star, whipped his polite, well-behaved audience into shape. By the end of the singer’s well-timed concert and enthusiastic encore, the crowd was swaying and dancing to Hawthorne’s pulsating, buoyant hits.
This concert marked a watershed moment in Hawthorne’s music career — it’s the first time he’s performed a mainstage, ticketed event in Ann Arbor. Earlier events, such as his hugely successful Sonic Lunch concert in the Michigan Theater several years ago, saw a full house, but no tickets were needed for the free concert. He has performed countless times in town and has a strong support base, but some wondered how much fans would shill out to see an act they previously enjoyed for free.
Luckily for Hawthorne, plenty made the leap to the ticketed event to show their support. After a brief DJ opener, Hawthorne and his band struck their signature poses and leapt right into the first syncopated number.
“It’s good to be back home,” Hawthorne said.
He kept the small talk to a minimum, packing in as many songs as possible. Though, he did take time to reflect on how far he’s come, remarking that he couldn’t believe he was on the Power Center stage after seeing concert after concert there growing up.
Hawthorne performed a steady mix of new and old hits, which half the audience could and did sing along to, as well as a few unexpected covers. His signature style suited his updated music well: a slim suit and tilted fedora were exchanged for a gold lamé blazer and matching kicks halfway through the show.
He’s a diva — is there a male equivalent of diva? — in the best sense of the word. He’s surrounded himself with an extremely talented band, with beats, backup and on-point dance moves. With them, he’s gracious with the spotlight, directing plenty of attention to their individual talents as well.
Years ago, Hawthorne got himself a stage name, assumed his suave, worldly stage persona and started making music here in Ann Arbor. Timed to coincide with the release of his fourth studio album, this tour featured the best of his smooth, upbeat crooning. The woman in Hawthorne’s hit song “The Walk” may walk her “high heels right out of my life,” but here’s hoping that the singer doesn’t walk out of our lives anytime soon.