Hall & Oates
Majestic Theatre, Dallas
Friday, September 25, 2015
Before Daryl Hall, John Oates and six backing musicians took the Majestic Theatre stage on Friday night, it was occupied by spokesmen for CitySquare, a nonprofit devoted to fighting poverty that annually sponsors “A Night to Remember." With a heartstrings-tugging video about folks receiving help in hard times and a slogan that drew applause from the more patient members of the audience (“If you love people, and you love Dallas, you’re gonna love CitySquare”), they ushered in a rock concert dressed up like a Broadway show, or a night at the opera. At the sprightly age of 30, it seems pop art can be invited to the high art table.
Whether or not that’s flattering depends on what you’re looking for. Decked out in sport coats and sparkling dresses, wine glasses in hand, the buttoned-up, sold-out crowd let loose intermittently throughout an evening of “absolute ‘80s greatness,” as it was awkwardly summed up by a CitySquare exec in his introduction. It’s hard to argue with the description, in part because with few exceptions Hall & Oates dutifully stuck to the script they perfected a long time ago.
Make way for all the expected highlights, the encore alone hitting a foursome that stand up with the best pop songs ever: “Rich Girl,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Kiss On My List” and “Private Eyes.” There were only minor deviations from their recorded versions in almost every case, which isn’t always a bad thing. Hall took center stage and the role of bandleader, his aging voice only noticeable on the high notes just before falsetto. (Elton John doesn't even try for that range anymore.) Despite some accidental feedback marring the first few numbers, they settled in and found their sound, offering workmanlike renditions of a formidable set of tunes.
It's worth noting that the 2010s have seen prominent artists at the creative forefront mining their work for inspiration, helping encourage generally ‘80s-averse critics to re-think their biases. Kevin Parker of Tame Impala has practically launched a yacht rock campaign this year, toying with the genre on Currents and straight-up delivering it on his Mark Ronson collaboration “Summer Breaking." The perfectly calibrated pop collages of Hall & Oates even have spiritual companions in a critic-beloved band like HAIM, combining meticulous craftsmanship with unpretentious pop sensibilities, albeit trading in Motown for Fleetwood Mac.
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Hall & Oates have the advantage of Charles DeChant on saxophone (my choice for MVP of the night, who also played xylophone, flute and seemingly whatever else was needed), and he managed to draw cheers from a fairly sedate crowd early on—the earnest CitySquare warm-up made for a jarring tonal shift when a beat-heavy “Maneater” opened the show, leaving attendees looking around the room as if for permission to leave their seats. t was a grooved-out cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” four songs in (which appears on 1980’s Voices) that finally brought some dancers out of the fray. With its velvety chairs and curvy staircases, the Majestic isn’t a natural setting for lowered inhibitions, so thank goodness for wine buzzes and a patient, steadfast rhythm section, confident in the knowledge that their audience would open up eventually.
They might’ve been too confident, noodling their way toward and around and through “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” to the point of excess—the return of recognizable riffs drew unusually palpable relief from the arena. “Sara Smile” was my biggest disappointment, all the particular sounds that make it such a tremendous ballad blending together as live show sonics often do. In contrast, “She’s Gone” was outfitted with exaggerated dynamics and light show extremes that sent a much-needed shock to the system. Before launching into it, Hall hummed the opening bar into the mic a cappella (“Everybody’s high on consolation…”), and the immediate sounds of approval announced that the crowd was finally awake.
At heart, Hall & Oates were always craftsmen first and foremost: songcraft, hookcraft, studiocraft, hitcraft; whatever jargon you find the least embarrassing. That’s one reason their best songs have held up so well 30 years later. But it’s also why their live performance has a certain inevitability to it—improvisational asides can only go so far toward keeping things fresh when every sound is so carefully considered, so clinically performed. For the first half hour, Oates announced the next song with a year or the album it was from, but he might as well have just said The Very Best of Daryl Hall & John Oates and been done with it.
That’s not an insult—it’s up there with Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection (and a few others) in contention for best one-CD pop compilation of all time, over an hour of truly essential music. Good for them for playing a charity show; otherwise, I’d be inclined to suggest an evening on the couch with your significant other, with that disc plugged into your best speakers. Sport coats and wine glasses are fine there too.