Hall and Oates
House Of Blues, Orlando • 11.14.97
“So, who are you going to see tonight?” asked a friend, who was only slightly miffed that they hadn’t been invited.
“Hall and Oates,” I replied. From the look that I received, I almost expected a “who?” But the actual come-back was “why?” Good question. “Because it’s free?” I offered.
Seriously, these blue-eyed icons of the Philly soul experience immediately bring to mind lots of poofy hair, cheesy VH-1 video retrospectives, and disco roller-skating — all elements that I’d much rather forget, let alone embrace in a concert setting. But after hearing a track from the pair’s first studio album in ages, Marigold Sky, I combed out my afro to its utmost poofiest and headed out to Da HOB.
A polyester mill must’ve exploded somewhere nearby; the crowd of concert goers vaguely resembled a bad ’70s high school reunion. Lots of couples who must’ve fallen in love at the prom while dancing to “Private Eyes.” There were persistent rumors that Paula Cole was to be the opening act, but in reality — there was no opener at all, leaving a fairly restless crowd to sip Budweiser and await the duo’s set at 10:00 p.m.
The band came out on time, thankfully, spurring the audience into a swooning pudding. Oh yeah, lots o’ fans here — they hadn’t even played a fucking note, and they’re crying “O Daryl, O Daryl! O Johnny!” Hall, resplendent in a crisp black outfit, blonde hair wisping precariously at his brow, strapped on an acoustic guitar while the diminutive Oates, minus his trademark bushy moustache, took the microphone at stage right and the band burst into “Romeo Is Bleeding” from the new album. Color my ass impressed — the punchy rhythms of drummer Mike Bruns, saddled with bassist T-Bone’s hardline throb, provided a foundation for the acoustic rock tune, with its tight harmonies and relentless drive. Frowning from time to time at the on-stage sound tech, Daryl’s guitar work intertwined nicely with Paul P.’s wailing lead licks. Keeping the groove moving at the close of this song, Daryl greeted the crowd and announced that they were doing a song from the infamous Big Bam Boom album before launching into a somewhat revamped version of “Out Of Touch.” Hall’s vocals were just as sharp and flexible as always while John stayed fairly in the background. Backing vocals were also excellent.
Rounding out the backing band were the magnificent Terry Lee on saxophone and Bobby M. on keyboards. After introducing the title track from their new album, the group launched into the country-flavored “Marigold Sky.” Daryl was still experiencing guitar problems and expressed his displeasure so often that it was a bit distracting. So far, the duo had struck me as somewhat automatic — that is, until the sly rocker “Want To,” which found Daryl taunting a prospective female lover. The slinky, sexy vamp boasted a deliciously nasty hook to it before exploding into a series of powerful stabs of sound. The 1977 hit “She’s Gone” followed, with the blonde one taking to the keyboards for a smaller, intimate feel. Perhaps needing a break, Daryl passed the microphone over to John for the lead work on “Time Won’t Pass Me By,” a new song that finds the guys following the same sort of 80’s groove that was their signature sound for so long.
One of the cool things about the House of Blues is proximity to the stage. Performers can connect visually with the audience and vice versa. Perhaps the electric spark of an artist eyeballing you from up close and jazzing off of your own personal groove is the drug that makes general admission so attractive. That’s what live shows are all about — feeding off of the audience. It was at this time that I got such an eye-jolt from John Oates. A smile crossed his lips and he nodded his head, matching the rhythm of my own head-nodding, craning his neck a little. A few seconds passed — he was still looking at me. Whoa. What were those rumors that I had heard back in high school?
After numerous guitar switches, Hall finally seemed to find what he wanted and introduced the band’s new single “Promise Ain’t Enough.” To their concurrent credit and discredit, it sounded exactly like the version that Movie Tunes plays at the AMC Pleasure Island Theaters. Technically, they were fairly without blame. But I was waiting for some good ol’ jaw-dropping concert theatrics. And that bastard Daryl read my mind, dipped into the past, and grabbed “One On One” from the H20 album. Raving it up with an extended jam, it was at this point that the concert seemed to actually exist as more than just a tired trotting out of old tunes and new promotions. Some real pathos was aroused on the classic “Sara Smile,” as Hall begged, cried, pleaded, and screamed his way through an utterly beautiful middle passage of emotionally wrenching soul. Ah-hah, I thought — they’re getting warmed up. Bring it on home boys. John looked at me again — I avoided his gaze. “What if the rumors were true?,” I thought. Was Oates hitting on me? Hmmmm.
Another new song, “Throw The Roses Away,” was insanely theatrical, even John — who stood pretty close to his microphone all night and smiled only occasionally — seemed to get hyped up. Digging back into their bag of old tricks, the pair launched into a double attack of “I Can’t Go For That” and “Maneater,” the latter featuring a sizzling, ear-bleeding sax solo by the very Purple Mr. Lee, who trotted the length of the stage edge and bleated sweet hooting notes right into the throng. After leaving the stage briefly, the band returned for a trio of new songs — the jangling folk-rock of “The Sky Is Falling,” and more extended jams on “Out of The Blue” and “Love Out Loud.” Throughout the show, Hall, Oates and Paul P. threw out picks to the crowd, a tradition that I’ve never really understood, but when John flashed me another long look and then hurled a pick right in my direction — I tried not to feel too foolish as I leapt up and grabbed the white plastic from the stage.
For the second encore, Daryl sat down at the piano to pound out the opening bars of “Rich Girl,” which brought the house down. With nary a segue in sight, “Kiss On My List” erupted into a shower of traded licks, and an insidious jam ensued. With a billowing curtain of sound still echoing in the hall, the pair bid goodnight to the crowd, John Oates gave me one more prolonged look and the show was complete. I guess I’ll never know what was up with that — but it’s nice to be noticed, eh.
Surprisingly, I came away with the idea that I had missed out on many Hall and Oates concert experiences, if this was any proof of my loss. Solidly entertaining, with not the slightest hint of Cheese-Whiz, the duo has weathered the years, and most likely, the derision of many stand-offish critics. They rocked the HOB kids — old as they wanna-be, but give the boys some props. When I got home, I took the white pick out of my pocket and noticed that it was emblazoned with John Oates’ signature in gold leaf. I felt strangely giddy about this.
Sort of sums up the experience; I came, I saw, I left elated. Great show.