Is life really just one long, slow Hall and Oates infiltration system?
(Photo: Chris Sikich)
Is life really just one long, slow Hall and Oates infiltration system? That may be the only way to account for how easily you remember the duo’s songs, even if you’ve never been invested in them beyond the passive act of not running to change the station whenever they were played on the radio. Several decades after they burst onto the dial, their blue-eyed soul morphing through proto-yacht rock, ‘80s R&B and a skinny-tie phase that might pass for new wave, this pop collaboration is still drawing crowds to a seemingly ordinary spectacle: a tall blond lead singer and a shorter dark-haired sidekick with a mustache so iconic it’s part of his own tee-shirt logo (although you may be forgiven for hoping the Oates it refers to is Warren).
What makes them so special, anyway? Their hooks! Hall and Oates don’t bring much spectacle to the arena, but they filled seats by virtue of a reliable and catchy professionalism that’s easy to dismiss but hard to deny.
Tears for Fears opened, and, if the group isn’t exactly the equivalent of Hall and Oates for the generation that grew up on John Hughes movies, its hits are a pleasant part of the nostalgia factory. They opened with perhaps their best song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and while Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith can’t carry all the notes all the time, they still front a good band. Arrangements didn’t veer far from studio versions, and drummer Jamie Wollam kept such a steady beat that sometimes he seemed like the lead instrument. Tears dug deep into their discography for three songs from their first album The Hurting, and nixed the up-tempo coda from the album version of “Head over Heels,” the penultimate song of their set, begging for an encore by trailing off the closing line: “funny how…”
Time has flown indeed, and after intermission, the headliners came on with if anything more spirits than their younger tour mates. They opened with Mike Oldfield’s “Family Man,” perhaps a nod to a demographic that may have grown extended trees over the duo’s career, and over 13 more songs, Hall and Oates for the most part performed their ubiquitous chart hits. And even lesser hits (is “Out of Touch” anybody’s favorite?) came off like a pleasant random-shuffle-limited-to-the-Hall-and-Oates catalog.
Hall’s voice occasionally seemed filtered to disguise its rough edges, but without the obvious reverb effects, he still sounds in good voice, as does Oates – who really knew that was him taking the lead on their cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”?
The one deep cut, Oates’ “Is it a Star” from the 1974 Todd Rundgren-produced album War Babies, was a cue for some in attendance to go to the bathroom or get more beer, but it was just as good as the hits, and seeing the act live you realize that Oates can pull off a good guitar solo.
The set’s relative low point was one of the duo’s greatest hits: “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” lost most of the precise guitar riff that drives the studio version and got lost in percussive ambitions of Santana. It didn’t work. But a post-encore mini set ended on a conceptual note that made you wonder if these songs weren’t all part of a greater plan. Their penultimate song, “Private Eyes,” reminded the audience that, hey, was there ever a moment in life that Hall and Oates didn’t bear witness to? Maybe all this time we were worried about Big Brother when what we should have worried about was Big Mustache.
Which led to the closer, a rousing “You Make My Dreams Come True” more spirited than the original. One of their liveliest hits, it’s a love song that infectiously turns the tables on itself: Hall and Oates have always been in our dreams, with all the inherent power of post-hypnotic suggestion that implies. Fortunately, for now, that power is limited to buying power. Go see them when they come to your town. You’ll be glad you did!