Daryl Hall & John Oates - Live At The Troubadour

  Daryl Hall & John Oates
  Live At The Troubadour

  3.5 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

For those of you who gave up on Hall and Oates after their long string of hits in the 80s - surprise! The fashion model and the tuneful gnome are still making music together, and the passage if time has served to make their stage act into a near perfect panorama of non-stop hits.

"Live At The Troubadour" was filmed 35 years after the duo first played the popular L.A. club to a crowd of 400 people who were there to hear headliner Harry Chapin sing "Taxi." After eighteen albums and more than thirty top 100 singles later, Hall, Oates and a band of hired guns returned to the scene of their first West Coast gig. Using an unplugged format, the boys played a nearly feckless two hour set comprised of 19 signature tunes and deep album cuts.

Because the audience knows the hits are coming, H & O are able to tease them with some of their obscure gems. In short, they had a captive audience and were gonna play what they wanted to play. They begin with "The Morning Comes" from their second album, "Abandoned Luncheonette," originally a sunny synth decorated ballad with acrobatic, tight harmonies. Hall admits he's not sure if they've ever played it live before, which is code for, "Please forgive us in advance if this sucks." The duo succeeds, with some judicious vocal help from guitarist T-Bone Wolk, sax player Charlie "Mr. Casual" DeChant, percussionist Everett Bradley, and keyboardist Elliot Lewis. T-Bone, better known for his prowess on bass, Wolks like a man in concert and is the instrumental star during the first half of the DVD, while "Mr. Casual" eases into the role during the second half.

"Say It Isn't So" isn't a very good song, but slowed a step and with the band bonding harmonically, it's a showy platform for T-Bone, who plays his acoustic with the precision of a skilled surgeon teeing off at a country club. A pair of songs I wasn't familiar with and was convinced would gum up the set ("Had I Knew You Better Then" and "It's Uncanny") are noble achievements. Oates takes a rare lead on "Had I Knew You Better Then," and his solid, Bill Medley tone indicates he should have taken a few more. Hall gets a little lost in the unfamiliar role of second singing banana and has trouble locating his harmony mechanism, but T-Bone continues to display A+ acoustic artistry. "It's Uncanny" is highlighted by an acoustic/sax duel between Oates and DeChant. It's uncanny how good a tune this mature Motown based ballad is. A third obscurity, "Getaway Car," has a simple but contagious hook: "We can runaway, come as you are, you can look at my heart as your getaway car. We can drive all night, it'll be all right, love can take is so far away in my getaway car."

Hall's equally ambulatory "Cab Driver" has a samba/funk feel close to Bill Withers' "Use Me," and Hall benefits from the use of reverb (which he could have used earlier to hide the grit in his voice). It's nicely executed, but way too long. And Harry Chapin is the only guy I can think of who made a cab ride sound remotely interesting.

By time the group gets into "One On One," Hall's voice is phlegm free and mixes nicely with the thick and timely back up vocals. Another fave, "Sarah Smile," doesn't translate with the same sentimental soul as the original simply because its thirty years down the road for Hall's vocal chords, but rich harmonies by Wolk, Bradley, Lewis and Mr. Casual keep Sara smilin'.

Technically, the show ends after "Out Of Touch," the thirteenth song. Hall puts down his acoustic for the six song encore, standing spread-legged behind an electric piano at center stage. DeChant goes Chris Wood on flute, putting together a fluttery solo that takes care of trying to recreate the programmed synths that intro'ed the studio version of "I Can't Go For That." "Rich Girl" gets a round of applause, but you and I know it's because the duo rhymed rich with bitch, a daring move in 1977. Drummer Michael Braun puts more emphasis on "Rich Girl's" downbeats and the ensemble backing improves it, but it's still a bitch, girl.

Personal fave "You Make My Dreams" still bounces brightly, even though Hall's voice shows signs of fatigue. Bradley dances in the background, DeChant hits impossible high notes on the sax, and T-Bone scrapes out another perfect solo.

One observation it won't take you long to make - either Hall and Oates have been playing together for so long they don't have to look at one another, or Hall and Oates don't really like each other, yet still manage to create robust rhythms together. Based on the separate interviews included on the DVD, it's the later. By my count, H & O exchanged looks only once in the two hours they shared a stage - much in the same way Germany and France shared Alsace-Lorraine. I saw Cream perform a commendable set a few years ago at Madison Square Garden in a similar fashion. Old adversaries Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker kept tabs on each other's movements, but Eric Clapton appeared to have located his psyche in another zip code, paying no heed to Jack or Ginger.

It's particularly evident that the duo maintains a professional relationship just before Hall launches into "Cab Driver," a solo tune that somehow wormed its way into the set. As Hall introduces the song, touting his own creative genius and plugging his on-line solo show, Oates turns his back in him and moves so far away from Hall he's almost off stage. You'll also note there's more empathy between DeChant and Oates and Hall and Wolk than there is between Hall and Oates. It's a strange way for 60 year-old men to act, but it's hard to argue with the results.

There's little to complain about in "Live At The Troubadour." Loyal H & O fans will view this as an affirmation that the two are indeed holy Hall and omnipotent Oates. You'd think two musicians who don't readily communicate and owed their success to studio technology would make glaring gaffes trying to perform their hits in an acoustic setting. But there really aren't that many mistakes, and believe me, I tried to find them! There were a few niggling problems that stuck with me that shouldn't affect your enjoyment. The most notable glitch, as I mentioned, is Daryl Hall's voice. Being a singer (I know, blah, blah, blah) I'm aware it can take a few numbers for the voice box to warm up. But if you can't hit the high notes the way you did 30 years ago - make a few concessions to age - lower the key! Hall doesn't have the range he did when he was a pin-up pop star. He's still a very capable and captivating performer, but his voice is grainy at times and cracks like a twelve-year-old when he tries to attain a higher register, especially in the early going.

Since this is an unplugged show, the songs are stripped of much of the studio trickery that made them so catchy in the first place. The approach actually helps weaker material such as "Family Man" and Rich Girl." But it also reveals that many of H &O's songs are carbon copies. The only thing that differentiates the closing number, "Private Eyes" from "Kiss Is On My List" is that it's the last song, and oh-yeah, the hand claps.

Lastly, I'm sure Everett Bradley is a swell guy -- he's got a wall-to-wall smile, and he's a pretty fair dancer and cheerleader. But when he's not singing, he's superfluous. I'd love to get paid for occasionally bopping a bongo or just twirling a tambourine. Wait a minute...I do!

The production levels are exceptional. The camera switches between the musicians in the blink of an eye. The only unseen player is bassist Jeff Katz, who's situated to the side of the cameras and is out of range.

The Extras...Hall and Oates Dish...About Each Other

"Live At The Troubadour" is topped off by a pair of pre-concert interviews. Hall and Oates talk about their influences, work ethic, and their experiences the first time they played in L.A. Things go as you might expect until each man talks about the other. Hall says of his relationship with Oates: "It's brotherly. You know your brother. You don't (necessarily) hang out with your brother. We don't spend a lot of time together other than when we work, and even then we're not working together that much."

When Oates gets the opportunity to comment on their relationship, he's equally candid: "We treat each other as individuals. We've always seen each other as separate entities."
The truth hurts, and fans may not like what else the duo has to say about each other, but you'll also learn what sage advice Temptations founder Paul Williams gave to Hall (that he didn't follow himself) as well as what the future holds for H & O.

"Live At The Troubadour" is a worthy career-spanning DVD by two performers who may not like each other, but love the music they play together - and it shows.



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