What does the ‘80s look like in concert form?
A saxophonist walking back and forth at the front of the stage, belting out a solo lasting several minutes? Check! A second percussionist who spends a serious portion of his time on stage banging not one, but two tambourines, often into one another? Check! Two men hovering around retirement age, surrounded by mostly younger musicians they hired just for this tour? Check!
To only be fair, “Do What You Want, Be What You Are: Hall & Oates 2012” was an overpriced experience. I guess they tried to warn us with the title, right? They did what they wanted, which was to make money. They were what they are, which is old and a bit frayed at the edges.
Darryl Hall's voice in its prime truly was a signature thing of beauty. It had white man soul and a healthy range, and he could belt out primitive sounds -- ooh! woo-woo! awwww! -- with the best of his generation. And while the value of being able to shift from soul-infused folkish rock to the New Wave Pop powerhouses they became in the ‘80s can be debated, they did it with nary a hitch, as if they’d been saving up for a synth and a saxophonist and splurged for both at just the right time.
Many of the creative license of their concert involved the simple fact that Darryl Hall cannot sing like he once could. This isn’t a capital crime; the guy is 66, for Christ’s sake, and unlike many AARP-friendly never-say-retire bands, H&O songs depend on that signature vocal. So, without that, the concert was bound to be a disappointment for me.
At the 58th concert minute, Darryl said these words: “Thank you and good night!”
We all knew this was merely the first pre-encore exit, but that it occurred before they had even completed an hour of their show was troubling. They played two encores, and their total playing time managed to tick right past the 90-minute mark, so it could have been worse, but it sure as hell could’ve been better for tickets ranging from $50-80.
We sat in the lower balcony section, two rows from the edge, a few rows in front of about a dozen college-aged kids. Those kids were awesome, because they really did love the music, but they also took pleasure from the utter kitschiness of the experience. They laughed aloud at the echo machine. They snickered at the never-ending sax solo. But they also danced and laughed and sang along the way Hall would’ve sung if his voice still had it. (To be fair, Hall’s voice wasn’t totally toasted. He could hit the notes here and there when he fought it, but there was no way it could hit all the notes to all those songs for 90 minutes.)
When the band returned for its first encore, the fans knew they could sit in their seats no longer. They stood. They rushed the stage. They, and my wife and I with them, danced harder and clapped louder and shook their hips sider to sider. The crowd -- not Hall, and not Oates -- made the concert the almost-success it almost was. They willed it to remind them of the songs they loved and the band they enjoyed, and by the second encore, they’d even managed to fool me into believing it was a better concert.
Such is the power of nostalgia.