Review: Hall and Oates at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg
Hall and Oates are best appreciated as a punchline.
There's a comedy duo named Garfunkel and Oates. There's this short film by Adam McKay, starring Willem Dafoe, which centers around Private Eyes. There's this J-Stache cartoon, starring John Oates and his crime-fighting moustache. Daryl Hall guest-starred on Flight of the Conchords. There's Chromeo, the hipster electro duo whose appreciation for Hall borders on the ironic, and The Bird and the Bee ... ditto.
Basically, in popular culture, Hall and Oates are shorthand for feel-good musical dorkitude. Best example: (500) Days of Summer, a romantic comedy positively obsessed with its own indieness, included this dance number with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as if to say only a lovestruck dweeb would ever be caught dancing in public to Hall and Oates.
This is the point in the review where every angry Hall and Oates fan on the Internet (there must be at least a couple, right?) converges on this blog to say, "What are you, insane? Hall and Oates have written some of the greatest hits of the past 30 years! There's more pure musical talent in the space where John Oates' moustache used to be than in the entire unitarded body of that latest flavor of the week, whats-her-name, Ketchup!"
I do not disagree. Hall and Oates are an extremely talented duo with an extremely talented backing band. Rich Girl, I Can't Go For That and Private Eyes are unimpeachable. I'm barely a casual fan at best, but I am willing to accept them as pop icons.
And yet ... there was still much ironic appreciation at play during Saturday night's show.
First, though, we gotta touch on venue. I've written about this before, but as much as I love the Rays' free postgame concerts, there's just no sugar-coating the audio quality throughout most of Tropicana Field. The sound there will always be okay, but never great. Not much can be done about that. It didn't help that on Saturday, it seemed a little gnarlier and more feedbacky than usual. Hall kept gesturing offstage as if something was up with his levels. (I like to picture a giant soundboard in the back with only two big channels: "Hall" and "Oates.")
Now, as I mentioned, I really like some of Hall and Oates' big hits, but I'm pretty lukewarm on the rest of their catalog. So after they opened with Maneater, a few of the lengthier slow jams, i.e. She's Gone or the cringe-worthy Sara Smile, just felt interminable. Hardcore fans might have loved it, but trust me, there were more casual fans in the Trop than hardcore fans. It's easy to dance in a stadium to Maneater; it's not so easy to sit there and groove to quality R&B keyboard work from 300 feet away in giant echo-filled dome.
During those 8-minute soul-pop-noodlefests, my wife and I passed the time by coming up with funny quips and alternate histories about Hall and Oates. We devised an elaborate backstory for the duo that centered around a put-upon and perennially under-appreciated Oates being forced to do things like file the band's taxes and drive the band bus and make omelets for Hall every morning. You'd have had to be there.
Now, things picked up again when the band hit (to borrow a baseball term) the heart of its order, and closed out the show with I Can't Go For That, Rich Girl, You Make My Dreams and Kiss On My List. Everyone started dancing (though I wasn't the only one who complained that they didn't play Private Eyes).
Put it all together, and what fans ended up with was a concert that was fun, though not in the way Hall and Oates probably intended -- which is a pretty good encapsulation of their presence in pop culture over the past decade or so. I'm sure they're in on the joke, so to speak, and if they're cool with it, I am too.
So if you gave me a choice of (A) appreciating Hall and Oates unironically as one of my favorite bands, or (B) continuing to think of Hall and Oates as hilarious ... I'd have to go with the latter. I can love Rich Girl and still make jokes about John Oates' moustache, right? Right!
Because this is the Internet, I imagine there are probably some dissenters out there. What did the rest of you think of Hall and Oates' Tropicana Field performance?
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
***UPDATE*** Our own '80s expert, Steve Spears, has weighed in, and he too had, shall we say, mixed feelings about H&O's somewhat lackluster performance. Click here for his review.