Local Current Blog

Review: Daryl Hall and John Oates shed no Tears for Fears at the Xcel Energy Center

Tears for Fears (Emma Roden for MPR)

“This feels pretty good,” said Daryl Hall as he leaned over his piano, grinning onstage at the Xcel Energy Center. “This is about as good as it gets. Are you feeling good, John?”

“Are you kidding?” asked his longtime musical partner, rhetorically. “Thursday night in St. Paul? Yeah!”

Yeah! From another band, that might have read as sarcasm, but if you were expecting sarcasm, someone didn’t adequately prepare you for the experience of a show by Daryl Hall and John Oates. It wasn’t sarcasm that got them where they are.

Where are they, exactly? The names “Hall and Oates” may inspire some not entirely charitable grins — cue the jokes about yacht rock and the mustache — but long after the grins subside, the two men and their band will still be up there pounding the keys and riding that groove.

They’ve had commercial success few acts of their generation can match, with 27 Top 40 hits stretching from the ’70s (“Sara Smile”) into the ’90s (“So Close”). Their musical bona fides are sterling, honed by half a century of performing — sometimes apart, but mostly together. They’re a touchstone for millennial acts like Chromeo and Thundercat, who strive for a similar alchemy of strong songs, tight grooves, and studio sheen. (“Hall and Oates is everything,” Thundercat recently said. “F–k everything else.”)

The Philadelphia heroes don’t have anything to prove, but that doesn’t mean they’re about to go off and pull some crazy experimental B.S. on us. They play blue-eyed soul like they’re turning on a tap, and last night in St. Paul that tap flowed for almost two hours. “It’s the beginning of our tour,” declared Hall, “so our blood is up!”

Despite having two frontmen, Hall and Oates were almost upstaged by their own horn guy. Charlie DeChant, his long grey hair giving the impression of a Gandalf in lamé, has been in the band literally as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m old enough to remember when Hall and Oates were on MTV instead of the oldies station. “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” was completely DeChant’s, from the flute intro (!) to the epic — let me say that again, epic — sax solo. When the band’s off the road, I can only imagine that DeChant lives in a cave atop a mountain, ascended by aspiring smooth rockers who dream to touch the hem of his gilded suitcoat.

Unfortunately, neither DeChant nor the other band members were well-served by a sound mix that was muddy — particularly early on — or by a set that clumped the players together in a center-stage heap, as though they were getting ready to shoot the Band On the Run cover. Oates did a little wandering about from time to time, but otherwise the band seemed happy to imagine they were playing a tightly-packed club instead of an expansive arena. Their chill but satisfied fans were right there with them, all the way up to the rafters.

The stage set, which relied heavily on not-quite-cheesy-enough video manipulations (the “Sara Smile” guitar solo got soft focus and double exposure), also suffered by comparison to the tightly choreographed light show of their tourmates Tears for Fears. The younger British band, who shared Hall’s and Oates’s white-hot mid-80s heyday but, on the face of it, not much else, found some common ground onstage.

Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith are also a duo, and more evenly matched than Hall and Oates in terms of stage presence: the further along the headliners’ set went, the more Oates seemed to recede as Hall belted out the nuggets. Tears for Fears match Orzabal’s reedy keen and spacious post-punk guitar riffs with Smith’s haunting goth-glam voice, the signature sound of the band’s punchy and atmospheric hits.

With a much shorter set than Hall and Oates, Tears for Fears stuck largely to those hits, which remain as arena-ready as they ever were. Live, though, some of the studio atmospherics fell away and the tightly structured songs themselves came to the fore. There were no jazzy sax solos, though: Tears for Fears exist in a firmly post-Prince world, where signature synth peals do the work of a horn section.

Orzabal and Smith didn’t have any Prince stories to share onstage, though. Instead, they both chuckled over an incident that happened earlier in the day. According to Smith, the two were at Dunn Bros. (presumably the one in downtown St. Paul) having breakfast, and happened to overhear a barista say she was excited to see Tears for Fears. Now past the time when he’d be recognizable from the Songs from the Big Chair cover, Smith shot out, “Tears for Fears suck!”

Tears for Fears

Tears for Fears setlist

Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Secret World
Sowing the Seeds of Love
Advice for the Young at Heart
Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Mad World
Memories Fade
Creep (cover)
Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)
Break It Down Again
Head Over Heels

Hall Oates

Daryl Hall and John Oates setlist

Adult Education
Out of Touch
Say It Isn’t So
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (cover)
One on One
Possession Obsession
Sara Smile
Wait For Me
Is It a Star
Method of Modern Love
I Can’t Go For That That (No Can Do)
You Make My Dreams Come True
Rich Girl
Kiss On My List
Private Eyes