As far back as the late ‘90s/early 2000s, a full-scale Daryl Hall and John Oates revival was in the works — a phenomenon much like the resurgence of other artists once deemed tragically unhip, like Burt Bacharach, the Carpenters, or Neil Diamond. As ’80s nostalgia continued to grow unabated — making H&O’s laughably low-budget music videos, Crisco-slick production, Miami Vice suit jackets, and even Oates’s since-shaved handlebar mustache seem surprisingly cool — so increased a newfound appreciation for the songwriting gifts of that decade’s, or any decade’s, most successful musical duo.
It became abundantly obvious how well-written adult-contemporary staples like “She’s Gone” and “Rich Girl” and blue-eyed soul jams like “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss on My List” always were, and suddenly it was fashionable for young bands to namecheck Hall and Oates as an influence. Phoenix, Zoot Woman, Chromeo, and Daft Punk clearly cribbed from the H&O songbook. “I Can’t Go for That” was sampled in about 11,000 hip-hop songs. Gym Class Heroes named one of their treks the “Daryl Hall for President ’07 Tour” (perhaps Hall will consider a bid in 2020, with Oates as his running mate?) and released a Hall and Oates mashup album. The Bird and the Bee, an indie-pop group featuring songwriter/producer-for-hire extraordinaire Greg Kurstin, recorded an entire album of Hall and Oates covers and even jammed with Oates himself in concert. And Hall recruited everyone from KT Tunstall, Grace Potter, and Fitz and the Tantrums to Todd Rundgren and the late Sharon Jones for his wonderful variety show, Live From Daryl’s House. And people got hip to the fact that Hall and Oates once actually toured with David Bowie.
This H&O renaissance was never ironic. None of this H&O worship was ever accompanied by a nod or a wink. As was the case with the above-mentioned Bacharach and Diamond, their stellar songwriting simply stood the test of time, as evidenced when the duo played the first of two nights at Los Angeles’s 21,000-capacity Staples Center Thursday.
The duo did occasionally stray too far from their songs’ classic arrangements — an ill-advised loungey/reggae-lite revision of the slinky new wave finger-snapper “Maneater” didn’t go over with the crowd nearly as well as more faithful and soulful versions of “She’s Gone” and “Rich Girl” — and 70-year-old Hall’s voice was rough in parts, forcing him to rely on backup singers to compensate on some of the high notes. But for the most part, the Staples show played like a greatest-hits jukebox, which was exactly what the masses wanted. The fact that, when H&O opened straight away with their muscular cover of Mike Oldfield’s “Family Man” and “Maneater,” they hadn’t already totally frontloaded their set with that H20 double wallop — that there were a dozen other equally irresistible R&B/pop jams that followed — was a testament to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ legacy.
Opening the evening was another dynamic duo of the ‘80s, Tears for Fears — also demonstrating their relevance by using Lorde’s cover of their 1985 hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” as their entrance music, then reminding everyone that their original version of “Mad World” is still the best. (Sorry, Gary Jules!) Co-frontman Roland Orzabal also proved he knows his own way around a good cover song, with a surprisingly powerful interpretation of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
But the most touching moment came when TFF’s Curt Smith, playing a rescheduled date (after this Staples residency was postponed due to a family emergency) that happened to coincide with his older daughter Diva’s 18th birthday, dedicated “Advice for the Young at Heart” to Diva. “Thank you for being the babies you were, thank you for being the kids you were, thank you for being the tweens you were,” Smith told both his children in attendance. “And Diva, thank you for being the adult you’ve become.” That was a sentiment that Staples spectators of all ages could appreciate — and one that probably especially resonated with very pregnant backup singer Carina Round, gracing the stage just one week before her due date.