For anyone coming of age in the late 1970s or early ‘80s Hall and Oates were pop radio staples, and the soundtrack of one’s youth. The songs were in the ether and you just had to hear a few bars to realise you know them all. For those in the UK they typified a mellow, carefree, American AOR sound giving a pop/new wave twist to music with more sombre rock or soul roots. This hybrid was catchy, accessible and unashamedly mainstream and if perhaps it was too pop for the serious music fans, it was more than good enough for everybody else. In fact, the ease of those pop hits belied how perfectly crafted they were. They went on to become, depending on who is counting, one of the top three pop duos of all time, selling over 40 million albums and, in the US alone, having a run of 6 Billboard No. 1s at one stage.
With one now having passed his 70th year and the other one just about to, they’re not resting on their laurels, but rather still on the road, still rocking and still looking good. They packed out the cavernous O2 with an enthusiastic crowd of long-time fans and some newbies, in a show which delivered a sampler of their extensive back catalogue. Some audience members even entered into the spirit by turning up sporting mullets and other 80s’ fashion crimes.
The challenge when revisiting a much-loved band of one’s youth is do you stop critiquing the way they might sound now and focus instead on the sheer collective nostalgia of just experiencing them live. This gig put that dilemma to the test and it was evident from the start that even Hall himself was not totally happy with the sound mix. It never settled and in the end, we had a wall of bass sound which smothered out any nuance in the vocals and posed a challenge for the bands star instrumentalists such as the striking Charlie ‘Mr Casual’ DeChant, whose wailing saxophone solos were so intrinsic to the Hall and Oates records.
By contrast the duo’s opening act Chris Isaak presented no such problems even recreating his classic ‘Wicked Game’ and its soaring falsetto with pristine clarity. His fusion of ‘50s rock n roll and easy country crooning was a great opener for duo.
As for the stars, sound mix aside, they spruced up many of the hits with a stirring bluesy-jazz twist, giving their band a chance to shine. They ripped through ‘Maneater’ ‘Out of Touch’ and ‘Say It Isn’t So’ and then took a rather unnecessary diversion outside their own catalogue and into “You’ve Lost that Lovin' Feelin’ which is now, vocally at least, is a step too far for the pair.
‘She’s Gone’ was followed by the exquisite, plaintive, ‘Sara’s Smile’ (a Grammy winner) which Hall led from a baby grand. It was a perfect reminder that before their ‘80s up tempo hits and before Disco (which derailed their career take-off for a few years) Hall and Oates were as mellow as everyone else was in the early ‘70s.
The mega hits were brought out in encores and the crowds left happy but you do think that you’d get a richer experience of those great arrangements in a more intimate venue.