We learned just about everything there is to know about Hall & Oates’ live experience circa-2011 within roughly three minutes on Thursday night. As one might expect, the crowd seated in The Ryman pews gave a warm collective cheer as the tabernacle’s house lights went dark and, barley visible, the duo’s six-piece backing band sauntered onto the stage.
Next, an ever-diminutive, sans-stache-but-soul-patch-sporting John Oates — who we’d spotted earlier in the day lunching at Cantina Laredo — followed close behind, stepping into the spotlight and elevating the crowd’s cheer to a roar. And then … the moment: Daryl Hall made his onstage entrance and the place erupted with a feverish standing ovation.
Daryl. Motherfucking. Hall. Hero? To some. Role model? To many. Genius pop songwriter? Most definitely. Golden-voiced vocal God? Without a doubt. Sons of Anarchy fan? Well, given the leather biker jacket, from-Fonda-lifted sunglasses and loose-fitting blue jeans the 65-year-old singer was rocking, we’d say almost certainly.
Without hesitation, the duo nodded at one another and counted the band into an opening “Maneater.” In an instant, the Mother Church was transformed into a cruise-ship ballroom. While, musically speaking, both band and duo were performing the sonically iconic, synth-era vanilla soul jam with note-perfect rigor, it sounded tepid. Sure, faulting Hall & Oates for sounding light and airy is kinda like faulting Dick Cheney for being, well, a Dick. But, decked out in our best sweaters, we expected something a little less ... perfunctory. We expected to see a pair of old white guys with great hair nailing a Temptations impression, or something. Instead we got a mostly immobile Hall & Oates rehashing their hits in a way that failed to mask that it’s their 3,637th time doing it. The band sounded good — perfect even. So that kinda made it feel mostly like a non-committal round of live-band karaoke. Sure, the hair was indeed great — Hall’s exquisitely sculpted, golden mane was, per usual, a glorious sight to behold. And like that lion’s mane, the singer’s voice was buttery as ever. But we wanted the hard sell, you know? We wanted it like Dire Straits wanted their MTV.
Aesthetic letdowns aside, we tried to remain undeterred from our quest to embarrass ourselves by dancing idiotically and singing atonally along to songs that once set the soundtrack to our progenitors’ coke parties. But the Boomer-laden crowd was having none of that. And by the second chorus of “Maneater,” our buzz was effectively killed, summarily executed from behind by the violent salvos of uptight elders yelling at us to “SIT! DOWN!!”
What happened to all that excitement that was filling the room a mere moment ago? How can anyone sit down when, onstage, the world’s most enthusiastic auxiliary percussionist is kicking his foot up and punting an imaginary soccer ball with each passing downbeat? Sit down? Uh, no. It’s Daryl Hall, not American Legion Hall. How ‘bout y’all stand up? Or fuck off. You’re not the boss of us. Also, you’re making it easy for Hall & Oates to lazily slog their way through this shit. We'd phone it in for you assholes, too.
What kind of parallel counter-culture is this where blue-haired fogies in pleated pants are yelling at smartly dressed nice kids like us for getting too into Hall & Oates? Especially when the duo is singing in such close proximity that you could nail one of them between the eyes with a Diners’ Club card if you threw it like a Frisbee. It was like we were 15 and our parents were banging down our doors and telling us to turn down the Suicidal Tendencies.
Well, Hall & Oates crowd, we’re not crazy, you’re the ones who are crazy. Daryl Hall is up there singing an underwhelming-but-good-enough-for-twistin’-and-shoutin’ “Maneater,” and as long his hairline is demonstrably (and demoralizingly) more robust than ours, you’re not gonna take that away from us. And you’re especially not gonna take that away from How I Became the Bomb singer Jon Burr and Mercy Lounge/Cannery Ballroom General Manager Drew Mischke, who — seated in front of us — were together on a man date that mandated geeking out and cuttin’ up a rug something fierce.
And, so, that was first three minutes of last night’s show.
“Maneater” was swiftly followed up with an equally temperate but all-too-appropriate “Out of Touch” and a continuing onslaught of soulfully blue-eyed soft-rock classics that included “She’s Gone,” a hyper-extended “I Can’t Go for That,” “Rich Girl” and The Spin’s hands-down favorite, “You Make My Dreams Come True.” Unfortunately, the ultimately pretty fun 14-song set did not include “Adult Education.” Bummer.
Things did pick up a bit as the relatively short show went on. Hall looked a little less like he was collecting a paycheck when passionately breaking out into soulful non sequiturs during the breakdowns of ballads like “Sara Smile,” while Oates channeled his passions through a series of shred-worthy guitar solos. And by the time duo and band were kicking out a second encore of “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes,” the audience was actually back on its feet and doing the latter’s chorus double-claps on cue, yielding us with a feeling of victory-by-way-of-passive-aggressive-attrition.
It wasn't even 9:30 p.m. when the lights came up, the house music came on, and the crowd exited the auditorium to the sounds of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” … which (and we’re not even kidding) people were singing along to. In an even stranger and more poignant post-script, we soon found ourselves over at Mercy Lounge, where a crowd our age was giving an infinitely more enthusiastic response to a local-rock production of Les Miserables.
We hope we die before we get old.