If I were to guess, I’d say that most of the people who attended the Hall and Oates concert in Cedar Park Friday night were expecting a night filled with 80’s nostalgia. They would have been satisfied just hearing their favorites played live in note-for-note fashion, bathing in the warm memories that the songs inspired. What they got was a bit different than that, but few left the H-E-B Center unfulfilled.
Coming off of their successful summer tour with Tears for Fears, Daryl Hall, John Oates and their stellar band are a well-oiled machine. Whether a result of the friendly competition a co-headlining tour like that invokes, or as a natural by-product of Daryl’s continuous reworking of their songs on his “Live from Daryl’s House” program, the old hits had a fresh feel. The band had room to spread their wings and jam a bit, sometimes completely reworking the speed and rhythm and venturing off into more uncharted terrain.
But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. I would be totally remiss if I casually dismissed the opening act for the evening. Led by charismatic front man Paul Janeway, St. Paul & the Broken Bones has become a “must-see” live act. Since hitting the scene a few years back, they have performed in all the big lolla-bonna-chella-roo festivals, supported the Rolling Stones and headlined their own sold-out shows. Not bad for a little southern soul band from Birmingham, Alabama.
As the houselights dimmed, the octet took the stage one by one, taking their positions beneath a backdrop featuring a cathedral stained glass window. Janeway meekly approached the microphone, his shoulders draped in a preacher’s robe. He raised his hands high and filled the entire H-E-B Center with his passionate, angelic voice. And then, in one sudden and deliberate movement, he yanked off his robe, revealing a bright red suit. From then on, the audience didnít know what hit them.
Watching St. Paul and the Broken Bones was a mesmerizing experience from start to finish. Janeway gyrated around the stage, electrifying the audience with his hand gestures and 60’s soul-singer dance moves. The range of emotions ran from forlorn crying and pleading to triumphant exhaltation. Continuously showing the range in his voice, Janeway at one moment portrayed vulnerability and the next exhibited fire and brimstone strength. He slinked around with the mic, rolled around face-down on the stage and danced in circles. He strutted from stage right to stage left, working the crowd with every lyric. At one point he took his shoe and held it to his face as if he was nuzzling a lost puppy before tossing it squarely over his shoulder. Moments later he sprawled himself across the speakers in the photo pit, writhing in emotion, as he used a bouquet of roses tossed from the audience as a microphone before crushing it against his face. This was not for shock value. This did not seem contrived. This was Janeway completely giving himself to the performance.
And yet the real story here is not the performance. It is in the transformation of the audience. Talking with concert-goers before the show started, most had never heard of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. As the set drew to a close, I looked out into the crowd to see everyone standing, dancing in their seats with arms stretched high into the air. It did not matter that they didn’t know the musicians or the songs. This concert experience relied on emotion. And this band brought it. It is safe to say that those in attendance now know who these guys are. And St. Paul and the Broken Bones have quite a few new Austin-area fans.
I must admit that, after a performance like that, I questioned the wisdom of Hall and Oates selecting these guys to open for them. Having seen the Philly duo live in 2016 out at the Austin360 Amphitheater, I was a bit concerned. During that show I found the Hall and Oates to be lackluster and uninspired, seemingly playing their hits for nothing but a paycheck. I am very happy to say that my worries were completely unfounded. On this night, Hall and Oates came to play.
Taking the stage 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers kicked off their 95-minute set with an inspired performance of their top-ten hit “Family Man.” Sticking close to the original arrangement, it featured some exhilarating lead work from guitarist Shane Theriot, setting the stage for the impressive musicianship to come.
From the first strums of “Maneater,” it was evident that the group was not content to simply play the note-for-note nostalgia card. This looser version was significantly slower and with a laid-back groove that was less pulsating bass and more lilting reggae. Sax man Charlie “Mr. Casual” DeChant came to the front of the stage for a wailing solo and some fun interplay with Oates that ended in a drawn-out fist bump. While I’m not certain the rhythmic rework worked on all levels, the band was undeniably enjoying the change-up. The crowd seemed oblivious, happily singing along with the lyrics.
A fairly straight-forward version of “Out of Touch” and an extended jam during “Say It Isn’t So” fed into their cover of the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Daryl and John alternated vocals on a version that was much richer live than on the 1980 recording. The crowd was loving it, echoing the call and response of the bridge and loudly singing the chorus (with varying degrees of success). Capped with a stellar extended lead guitar break, the audience erupted in applause at the songs conclusion, bringing the few who were not already standing to their feet, where they would stay for the remainder of the performance.
“One on One” followed with Hall getting soulfully wilder, his voice just another instrument in the extended jam that the song became. His vamping and improvised fills meshed beautifully with Oates’ expert harmonizing before another tasty sax solo guided the song to its rich acapella ending.
Declaring that “This is the song that defines us,” Hall and Oates brought it back to their first charting hit and treated the audience to pure Philly Soul. The lush harmonies and instrumental swells that defined 1973’s “She’s Gone” showcased the best of the duo, washing over the crowd in a luxurious sonic wave.
“I’m gonna pay you a couple of songs on the grand piano here” Hall exclaimed, before sitting down and playing some jazzy chords that morphed into “Sara Smile,” their Grammy-winning hit. Hall was in fine voice but at 71, but hitting the high notes of his youth is an unreal expectation. Instead, the crowd filled in, allowing him to relax and improvise soulful vocal fills while Oates served up some expressive guitar licks. A blanket of lights that extended over the arena floor gave an intimate feel to the 8,000-seat arena making the moment something special. The song was perhaps the nights emotional highlight, ending with a long-standing ovation, prompting a happy and relaxed Hall to collapse across the piano and quietly say “Speak the truth.”
He stayed at the grand for the show’s only obscurity, the John Oates penned “Is It a Star” from the 1974 album “War Babies.” Although no one seemed to recognize it, the crowd stayed with them and enjoyed the musical interplay. As Oates sang, Hall was having a blast tickling the ivories and participating in the loose interchange that found Oates scat singing during his guitar solo.
The song segued into a funky and completely reworked 10-minute version of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”. Hall moved from the grand piano back to center stage and the Roland keyboard where he would stay for the remainder of the night. The song’s funky syncopated rhythm provided a musical bed that the musicians used to launch their improvisations, truly enjoying the interaction. Hall exhorted the crowd to sing and sing they did, echoing the call and response of “I canít go for that… no can do” as Daryl beamed from ear to ear.
Upon returning to the stage for the encore, Hall thanked the Austin crowd and introduced their standout back-up musicians, which included Shane Theriot (lead guitar, vocals); Porter Carroll (percussion, vocals); Eliot Lewis (keyboard, vocals); Klyde Jones (bass, vocals); Brian Dunne (drums); and the afore-mentioned Charlie “Mr. Casual” DeChant, on saxophone, flute and a variety of other instruments. And with that, Daryl Hall played the opening keyboard riff to “Rich Girl” and the band launched into a four-song sprint that included “Kiss On My List” and “Private Eyes” before finishing with the bubbly “You Make My Dreams.” The final number was a bit faster than the original and I must admit, I laughed while watching the older crowd bop along to the frenetic beat like penguins on pogo sticks!
As the house lights came up I saw smiles everywhere. A comment from the guy behind me seemed to sum it up. “That’s ridiculous… That’s music!” Yes. It is.