On what feels like an all too typical night in Hollywood, we walk up to the cue in front of the Fonda Theater.
The usual debauchery taking place in line and around it – a frat guy falls out of his party bus as the door opens, a woman yells at her husband to let her sit down on the sidewalk while their 3rd wheel friend tries to light her cigarette without falling over.
For the few of us waiting to walk through security, there is a wistful excitement at the thought of something more memorable—once inside, the atmosphere changes from the hectic street. Eyes adjust to the dimly lit, yet inviting theater as we walk past the bar. At first glance, I notice the eerie murals surrounding us, the painted faces starting to flicker with light as NAATIONS begin their opening set on stage.
The historic 1920’s venue continues to fill with eager fans as we arrive on the dance floor in front of the sound booth. Sydney, Australia based songwriter and producer, Hayden James, is rounding out his tour in support of his debut album, ‘Between Us.’ Since his first popular releases, “Permission to Love” and “Embrace,” he’s opened up for the likes of Disclosure and Odesza and graced the stages at a handful of major festivals. In June of this year, ‘Between Us,’ came out on the electronic staple Future Classic.
Hayden opens his set with an extended intro to, “Something About You,” while remaining hidden in the pitch black. As the song builds, Hayden’s new LED set up starts to sparkle to life – 5 squares of light descend behind him, each one smaller than the last to evoke a trippy 3D stage presence. Eventually, the lights reveal his silhouette as the song drops in full throttle. At this point, James’ lets us know he isn’t just a DJ. His production set-up hosts a myriad of synths and drum pads, all of which he plays live throughout the set. After the first track fades out, the rest of Hayden’s set glides effortlessly through his variety of groovy, dance hits.
During ”Just A Lover,” the LED presentation creates the feeling that the lights are dancing along with the track. James’ brings out a male vocalist for the track, “Hold Me Back,” and the presence of a new face and live vocals brings new energy to the crowd. Getting to the deeper, classic cuts ”Permission to Love,” throws the long-time fans back to the one that made them love Hayden in the first place. As he put it himself, “here’s one of the first songs I ever wrote!”
He slowed it down with the soft and elegant, “Weightless.” The album’s title track, “Between Us,” a collaboration with vocalist, Panama, shines through and gives a little sliver of Hayden’s heart and personality. He lets the crowd know he wrote the track about his new son and then takes a moment to thank the crowd and expressed his love for the support on the album and tour thus far. As a new father, he explains, the album really gave him a way to express true events that have happened to him in his life. As Hayden claims, “the album is about human connection, love, loss and mostly about hope.” Undeniably, the crowd felt this energy and love throughout the night. At a time when things can feel very dark and uncertain, it was a pleasure to have a fun-loving, optimistic, and joyful crowd that all felt a united breath of fresh air from the music.
Hayden also brought back out NAATIONS, for “Nowhere to Go,” and the crowd was re-energized with Nat Dunn’s powerful vocals. The song seems to have become the anthem to the tour since NAATIONS represented both the opening act and an extremely notable single from the album. James’ paid homage to some of his past tour mates and collaborators when he dropped a few remixes including Duke Dumont’s “Ocean Drive.”
Personally, from being a long-time fan and never seeing Hayden James, he really brought everything with both the production and energy. The show was a mind-blowing performance that held its own without the bells and whistles of Chainsmokers set. For fans that know his studio work, each song had its own new journey as part of the live set. They had a way of ebb-ing and flow-ing with a new unique style, opening up new sections and adding new parts.
After spending around 2 years on the new album, it’s got to be a great feeling to hit the road with sold-out shows. As his biggest tour in the USA to date, Hayden is will round out the stateside tour next week, before resuming in Europe. Hayden’s unique production techniques and catchy vocals (all written or co-written by Hayden), all combine to create his self-proclaimed pool-side, summer vibey, grooves.
Check out Hayden James’ guide to Australia HERE.