Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hall & Oates / Longfellow @ Birmingham Symphony Hall, Tuesday 22nd July 2014

Wow, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true...) Daryl Hall and John Oates have been ‘active’ as long as I have. Okay so I was born in 1970 whereas they first started playing together then but still, maybe that explains why I loved their run of classic singles (Kiss On My List, Maneater, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Private Eyes) so much back in the 80s? For anyone unfamiliar with their sound the best selling rock duo EVER (yes really, even more successful than PJ and for the 30 somethings out there) blended a little soul, a little new wave, a little synth pop and just a touch of rock to come up with the kind of super smooth tunes that bands like Metronomy and Chromeo have pretty much based their entire careers on recently. Oates had a cool ‘tache too, you’ve got to love a man with a cool tache. That was then, but this is now. Incredibly Hall’s nudging close to70 and Oates started collecting his pension in April so would this evening be a case ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ or ‘I Can’t Go For That’? 

First up a band called Longfellow who, having admitted that the biggest crowd they’d played to before this tour was 250 people at the Camden Barfly, must be cock-a-hoop at landing this tour. There’s a distinct Coldplay / Keane vibe about them which is about as Marmite as you can get. If you’re a fan of that nice Mr Martin and his chums there’s a fair chance you’ll love Longfellow just as much. If not...well, perhaps you’re better off waiting in the bar. They seemed at their best when they added a little Killers influence to the mix as on Siamese Lover and, given Coldplay’s miraculous rise to stadium success, it’s not hard to imagine several thousand souls singing along.  

I’ve no idea how long it’s been since Hall & Oates last played Brum but judging by the fact that this gig sold out faster than Michael Gove voodoo dolls at a NUT conference it’s clearly been a while. Tonight was the last date in their brief UK tour and, unusually for the Symphony Hall crowd, from the moment they came onstage, pretty much everyone was on their feet. Hall now sports facial hair, a full beard in fact, whilst Oates’ once magnificent tache is a shadow of its former self. Oh the shame of it. Other than that they look pretty good, all the more remarkable considering that Hall’s been suffering from and battling Lyme Disease for a few years now.  Nasty. Perhaps that’s why they kicked off with the tick’s anthem (Lyme Disease is spread by ticks you see...oh you got that already...good) Maneater. That choppy guitar riff and sultry sax still sounds cool. Hall’s vocal is a little deeper now with a slightly rougher edge (that takes a moment or two to get used to if you’ve played the original for the last 30 years or so) but his ability to hit the higher notes is still impressive, especially as the gig progresses and the voice warms up. It’s nice to see Santa’s younger brother up on stage too, actually it’s long-time band member Charles De Chant (who’s been with the band since ’76) but the long white beard and hair make him a dead ringer for Old St Nick.

As their last album of all new material was back in 2003 there’s no new product to tout so this evening was all about the hits and that’s just what they dished up, plucking the gems from the back catalogue. The chiming Out Of Touch was followed by a rifftastic and hard rocking Family Man (with the first of many impressive guitar solos from various members of the band) and, taking things all the way back to the start, the Bee Gees meets Springsteen of Back Together Again. 

It’s hard to imagine that Scissor Sisters don’t have this bad boy on their iPod. Another lesser known track, Las Vegas Turnaround (sung as well as the day it was written by Oates), had more of a Steely Dan vibe with little of the glossy pop sheen that gave Hall & Oates their biggest hits. It’s a neat reminder that the band went through several phases before striking gold and somewhat surprisingly they’d been around for almost a decade before making much of an impact here in the UK.  Coming from a similar era Sara Smile and She’s Gone followed, proof perhaps that less is MOR they’re pleasant enough but if you grew up in the 80s you want a little synth in there. We didn’t have to wait long. I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) was the band’s biggest global hit and it’s the perfect encapsulation of their strengths, smooth vocal harmonies, catchy choruses and transatlantic pop gloss. 

It still sounds remarkably fresh, possibly thanks to the revitalising influence of the aforementioned Metronomy and Chromeo, and tonight the band make the most of it with De Chant blowing up a storm on the sax and various guitar solos extending the thing way, way beyond its allotted 4 minutes or so. No complaints here. Highlight of the night. 

After the traditional off again on again nonsense of the encore Rich Girl and You Make My Dreams Come True were followed by another couple of gems from the golden age, Your Kiss Is On My List and Private Eyes (as with I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) both US number 1’s, when having a number 1 really meant something). Both Hall and Oates found time to do a little self promotion too, Daryl plugging Live From Daryl’s House (a series of online gigs’ve guessed it...his house) and John bigging up his new solo album A Good Road To Follow. It’s as a duo that they’ll always be best known though and this evening was an even better celebration of that than I’d been expecting. Let’s hope they don't leave it so long before they’re ‘Back Together Again’ eh?    

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