There's something special about the moment when a big-piece soul ensemble clicks and all the musicians start really feeling each other.
That undefinable, magical groove is no doubt what enchanted Daryl Hall and John Oates in the first place and led to their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career as a smooth pop songwriting duo. Last night at Ak-Chin Pavilion, the two singers brought with them a six-piece backing band, and though it took a few songs for the pieces to fall into place, when they did, the concert took on a special air.
Hall & Oates have experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years, as time has shown that the once-scorned sound of the duo has aged remarkably well. The victory of poptimism over the rockists paved the way for broad swaths of music fans to listen to "Rich Girl" and "Maneater" guilt-free, and in 2014 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" has proven to be one the most enduring songs of its era. Hall even once said that Michael Jackson admitted to lifting the groove from the song for "Billie Jean" during the recording of "We Are The World."
In other words, Hall & Oates' legacy consists of a handful of great songs, the distinction as the best-selling rock duo of all time, and a trio of albums in the '80s that launched their careers into the stratosphere. The crowd at Ak-Chin Pavilion was anxious and enthusiastic to see the duo, especially after being lubed up by openers Trombone Shorty and Sharon Jones. A six-piece band marched on stage and played a short introduction as the two lead singers came on stage, and the crowd greeted them with a rowdy cheer.
The first song played was "Maneater," but there was something off. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly was wrong, but it was most likely a little bit of everything: Hall's guitar was just a little too soft, the bass and the drums weren't exactly in sync, both Hall's and Oates' voices sounded a bit fatigued, or more likely, not warmed up. The band followed with "Out of Touch" and "Did It In A Minute," and things weren't much better. It was a bit weird — though there was nothing perceptively wrong with the performance, the energy certainly dampened. Most of the crowd was seated by the third song.
It wasn't until the fifth song — John Hall stepped to the mic for "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," the Righteous Brothers song that the duo covered decades ago — that the vibe picked up in the crowd. From then on, the band seemed much more comfortable and slipped into a fantastic groove that it held for the rest of the night.
John Oates and the duo's longtime winds player Charlie DeChant did some cool back-and-forth and their guitar and saxophone, and the concert was as much of a showcase of the instrumentalists as it was of the singers. This proved to be the most charming part of the concert: Hall and Oates might be superstars but they're humble enough to recognize the strength of the ensemble as it applies in soul music. They're devotees and the alter of soul, and they demonstrated why they've earned their place among music's great icons.
They closed out the set with "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)," extending the song form its radio-friendly length to include extended solo sections, allowing the band to spread its wings and soar. "Kiss on My List" and "Private Eyes" ended out the night.
Last Night: Daryl Hall and John Oates at Ak-Chin Pavilion
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The Crowd: Much older than the last concert I saw, though there were a healthy slice of millenials in attendance.
Songs They Should Have Played: I'm not crazy about it , but I'm sure many were disappointed to not hear "You Make My Dreams."
Personal Bias: I barely knew who Hall & Oates were until I heard Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers' amazing cover a few years back.