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Hall & Oates headline Rock Hall benefit one month after their induction

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Hall & Oates concert in Cleveland, May 10, 2014

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We’ve been following Hall & Oates for as long as we can remember.

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“Kiss on My List” was our first 7”, a must-have musical acquisition plucked from G.C. Murphy Co.’s small library of 45rpm singles—and paid for with hard-earned Plain Dealer paperboy profits.

By 1980 Hall & Oates had embraced new wave and dance, seamlessly weaving the day’s new-fangled mechanical sounds into their patented blend of blue-eyed R&B. Their then-current LP, Voices, found the Philadelphia duo seasoning its soulful strains with pulsating synth bass and percolating beats—all programmed on the latest electronic drum machines. It was a guilty pleasure for us (and probably them, too). Lyrically, “Kiss” isn’t a tune a ten-year old boy wants to share his buddies. After all, the song’s about keeping secrets from friends (or brushing them off entirely) to pursue a love interest.

But we played the hell out of that vinyl, spinning the song so frequently on a bullshit Fisher Price turntable (along with its B-Side, “Africa”) that it developed skips where Daryl Hall sings “take up your time” and “means more to me.” Still we played it, anticipating the hiccups and letting them repeat for several revolutions—Daryl Hall does Groundhog Day—until the stylus surrendered.

Later, we’d add cassette copies of H2O and Private Eyes to our expanding collection of K-Mart and Columbia House tapes. The J-card for the duo’s first “best of” set—Rock and Soul, Pt. 1—had a perforated 1984 calendar printed inside. We tore it out and referred to it regularly over the next school year.

Wish we’d just left it alone.

Ah, but who’d have guessed that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum would open its doors on the Erie shore a decade later, or that it’d take another twenty years for pop’s most prolific partners to be named honorees therein?

Their halcyon days may be behind them, but Hall & Oates (both in their mid-60s) are as busy as ever. Their 1997 album Marigold Sky remains an overlooked treasure, and both 2003’s Do It For Love and 2005’s Our Kind of Soul saw a timely return to the guys’ stripped-down doo-wop harmonies and acoustic-flavored folk.

Oates issued the delta blues-inspired Mississippi Mile a couple years back and is now in the middle of a new project, A Good Road to Follow, for which the mustachioed marvel will release new songs online throughout the year. The first digital single, “Stand Strong,” is available on iTunes or via his website (see link below).

Hall, meanwhile, cut the solo disc Laughing Down Crying in 2011 but has otherwise been occupied by his phenomenally popular T.V. show, Live From Daryl’s House. The program—on which Hall jams, dines, and hangs out with a diverse array of musical guests (Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh, Smokey Robinson, etc.)—was launched in 2007 as an informal webcast but now airs on VH-1 and Palladia Network. Hall also enjoys renovating historic homes; the barns appearing on initial episodes of Live were among his first major rehabs.

Even if Hall or Oates had gone on hiatus after Big Bam Boom or Ooh, Yeah—or say, after Hall’s debilitating battle with lyme disease in the 2000’s—they’d still have left a trail of over thirty Billboard Top 100 hits to mark their legacy as the most successful pop duo ever. That’s seven RIAA-certified platinum albums, six gold records…and a handful of unforgettable number ones.

All of which were played tonight.

One month following their induction at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York, Hall & Oates returned to Cleveland to play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s 11th Annual Spring Benefit Concert in the shadow of I.M. Pei’s glass arboretum. The sold-out show at Cleveland Public Hall found the pair eschewing its latter-day catalog in deference to those memorable mid-‘70s and early-‘80s radio hits, with proceeds funneled toward the Rock Hall’s education department and Library & Archives annex at the Tri-C campus on Woodland.

The Public Hall floor was arranged like a hoity-toity wedding reception, with Executive Caterers serving corporate guests seated at round tables with candlelit centerpieces. In back, multicolored ceiling decorations lent a ‘60s mod vibe, within which guests could stroll for shrimp, pastries, and “punk pizza” in between charity bids on limited-edition rock swag—like backstage parties with KISS or golf outings with Alice Cooper.

The plebs (which is to say, the true diehards) crammed into the auditorium’s two-tiered balcony but made their presence felt with exuberant applause and (later) considerable foot-shuffling in the aisles.

Local radio and T.V. personalities Lee Jordan (WEWS, Channel 5) and Kris Pickel (WKYC, Channel 3) gave ticket-holders a final opportunity to participate in big-ticket auctions before the show. Up for grabs were a Browns road trip, a Victoria’s Secret fashion show getaway, and a guitar / bass set signed by “the surviving members” of Nirvana—all of which sold for between $10,000 and $30,000.

Then, finally—after obligatory salutations from PNC Bank Regional President Paul Clark—Cleveland rocked with Philly’s favorite sons.

The duo started out strong, grabbing the restless crowd with heyday hits “Maneater,” “Out of Touch,” and “Say It Isn’t So.” Oates looked comfortable in white, noodling on a blue-tinted guitar in front of longtime member Charlie DeChant’s Korg Triton keyboard rostrum. Hall—sporting a red plaid shirt and aviator shades—took longer to get settled, gesturing to technicians offstage with hand signals whose complexity rivaled those of a third base coach at the World Series. The last of the squelches and squeaks of feedback disappeared by the fourth tune, allowing Hall to lock in with his butterscotch Telecaster.

“It’s great to be back!” greeted the still-leonine singer. “It’s always good to be in Cleveland!”

The boys and their band then eased into a pair of funky backtracks: The non-album track “It’s Uncanny” took fans back to the late ‘70s compilation No Goodbyes (issued shortly after the duo jumped to RCA). “Alone Too Long” harkened back to what Oates referred to as “the silver album”—but everyone else knows it as the eponymous 1975 LP with the guys dolled up like disco queens.

A slinky “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)” segued into another classic from 1973’s Abandoned Luncheonette, the album that—according to Hall—“brought [us] into the world.” The sultry “She’s Gone” resonated with listeners, and had Oates easing on his guitar effects pedals for some gentle wah-wah swells.

“Every time we play it feels like the first time,” he said.

Described as “a very honest song,” the 1975 gem “Sara Smile” was transformed into a ten-minute soul jam, replete with Hall scatting through the breakdown and DeChant riffing on one of his many signature sax solos. Lead guitarist Shane Theriot (who now serves as musical director on Daryl’s T.V. show, replacing Paul Pesco) cooked up magic on his green Strat, buying time for Hall to ready his pipes for an impressive outro vocal. In his inimitable way, Hall gave the Convention Center soiree the relaxed feel of large-scale living room shindig, drawing friends and neighbors into the communal spirit with his banter. He occasionally ran his hands through his hair when not strumming—and must’ve flicked a few dozen plectrums out to lucky onlookers.

But the singer parked his Tele and ducked behind a keyboard for the set’s second half, teasing his way into “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” As with many of the night’s selections, the Private Eyes chart smash became a protracted funk-a-thon, with Oates and Theriot swapping staccato guitar riffs while Hall improvised vocal infections for the band to mimic. DeChant traded his sax for a flute, then spearheaded a “No Can Do” call-and-response clap-along. Even percussionist Porter Carroll got in on the action, contributing a dynamic, upper-register nah-nah-no vocal as drummer Brian Dunne and five-string bassist Klyde Jones delineated sinewy measures and irresistible rhythms.

It seemed too soon at this point for the guys to even pretend they were done, but they did—feigning goodbye and disappearing after only nine tunes. They couldn’t return fast enough, but stayed in the audience’s good graces with a stellar “Rich Girl” (how appropriate for the big-spenders down front). Hall took lead again on the upbeat “You Make My Dreams,” fingers jabbing at the keys as he wailed to a big finish.

A second encore featured good old “Kiss On My List” (sans record skips) and a rambunctious “Private Eyes” (clap), rounding out the night’s Hall & Oates jukebox (clap, clap).

The Public Hall acoustics were questionable. We thought the bass could’ve been more pronounced early on, but the mix—to our ears—was remedied in time for “She’s Gone” and “Sara Smile.” The lights (alternating shades of reds, greens, golds, and blues) consisted of a rack or two of gels that established mood without being gaudy. Fortunately, roving cameramen (and women) transmitted the entire show to a pair of video screens on both sides of the stage—a huge plus for folks upstairs and far back.

Here’s hoping the benefit was a financial boon for the Rock Hall. Its headliners certainly made good on the occasion: Hall & Oates demonstrated not only why they belong enshrined in Cleveland’s crystalline pyramid of pop, but that they’d earned their places in it long ago.

We can go for that.

www.hallandoates.com
www.facebook.com/hallandoates
www.livefromdarylshouse.com
www.johnoates.com

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