There need be no guilt in the pleasure of Hall & Oates.
The innocence of their young-love lyrics, undeniably catchy tunes, alternatingly cool and dorky doot-doot's and whoa-whoa's -- it's a catalog of three dozen Top 10 hits, many of which have somehow emerged from 1980s nostalgia relatively untethered.
For a duo that didn't catch fire on the pop charts until they went new wave -- hooks, bass lines and baggy pants -- Hall & Oates certainly didn't sound like an '80s relic Friday night at the Chicago Theatre. Over the course of a remarkably short (hear, hear) 80-minute set, including two encores, Mr. Feathered Hair and Mr. No Stache worked hard to funkify, coax and otherwise drag their most recognizable tunes back about one decade.
It must have confounded any hipsters at the show -- there were a few -- attracted by Hall & Oates' unexpected and wholly unnecessary new indie cred. After years of appearances in the traditional testing-ground for artists formerly known as kitsch -- hip-hop samples -- Hall & Oates within the last year have enjoyed a more direct appreciation among a new generation. Daryl Hall performed his hits with Montreal-based electro duo Chromeo at the Bonnaroo concert festival. In last year's indie film "(500) Days of Summer," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character celebrates his new romance in a Broadway-like production number to "You Make My Dreams." Smooth pop duo The Bird & the Bee released their third album this year, an entire set of Hall & Oates covers. "There's definitely no irony," said Greg "The Bee" Kurstin defending the release. "They're great songwriters and these are great songs."
They are great songs, no matter how they're played. Friday's concert began with Hall playing guitar, always a good sign. That made for three guitars, with John Oates and Paul Pesco playing some leads, and it gave lighter songs weight ("Maneater," "Out of Touch," "Say It Isn't So"). He jangled his way into "Sara Smile" with a cool confidence and a wrist so supple it must make John Mayer quiver. The duo's trademark "rock and soul" was definitely rocking.
Later, Hall moved behind a keyboard and went after the soul. Sometimes it worked. "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" shrugged off every fiber of its new wave fashions and revealed a funky, Sly Stone skeleton, complete with an extended funk jam and flute solo. Sometimes it lagged. "Do What You Want, Be Who You Are" stretched until it fell apart, and the encores were workaday run-throughs with decent grooves.
Hall had a good time, anyway, when he wasn't yelling at the sound engineer in the wings off stage right. Throughout the concert, Hall barked at this person, off-mike, frustrated with something clearly troublesome -- everything sounded fine in the house -- all the way into the encores. A seasoned showman, he only showed the spotlight his smile.
Oates came out of his daydreaming in the middle of the set, delivering a scorching solo at the end of "Out of Touch" and singing lead on "Las Vegas Turnaround," the thinness of his voice belying its clearly measured pace and nimble soul.
In an era of pop music with an alarming lack of soul, the backward slide into Hall & Oates' roots felt good if no longer life-altering.
Hall & Oates at Chicago Theatre
- "Family Man"
- "Out of Touch"
- "Say It Isn't So"
- "It's a Laugh"
- "Las Vegas Turnaround"
- "She's Gone"
- "Sara Smile"
- "Do What You Want, Be Who You Are"
- "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)"
- "Rich Girl"
- "You Make My Dreams"
- "Kiss on My List"
- "Private Eyes"