Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hall and Oates & Tears For Fears At Staples Center | Lefsetz Letter

Shout, shout, let it all out

The younger generation is oblivious to MTV. Back when it was still labeled “Music Television,” when it drove the culture, when everybody knew the hits and they were bigger than ever before, even than in the sixties.

You see now there was only ONE radio station, and we were all tuned in. If anything, radio followed television, and with KROQ personnel programming, the sound on television was anything but calcified and AOR stations started dropping like flies. No one thought KMET could ever fold, rock was forever, but it flipped and became smooth jazz.

Now when MTV launched, you couldn’t get it. That’s right, in August of ’81 not everybody had cable, and not every cable system had MTV. So when you went to someone’s house and they did…

It was like going on AOL for the very first time. You couldn’t help but stare. You’d watch for hours and hours. Some bands were resuscitated by the format, but others were brand new, like Culture Club, like Duran Duran, like Tears For Fears.

Now before MTV became ubiquitous, when it was still 1983, Tears For Fears made its debut. And KROQ played “Pale Shelter.”

But when the next album came out, “Songs From The Big Chair,” in 1985, MTV was everywhere, ultimately this was the summer of Live Aid, which is remembered most as MTV’s anointment of arrival, of meaning, of even gravitas, and that year, Tears For Fears ruled.

So what you’d do back then is…

After seeing a hit or two or three on TV, you’d buy the album, and “Songs From The Big Chair” did not disappoint.

And immediately you’d make a tape. Some people would buy tapes to begin with, but anybody with any audiophile cred knew prerecorded cassettes sucked, they were duped at high speed on crummy tape and you could buy a Maxell or TDK and roll your own that sounded much better, which I did, and inserted into my Walkman as I rode my bike down to the beach.

It was still winter, it was still blustery, but “Songs From The Big Chair” kept me pedaling. It was a private experience, one I recalled instantly as these songs were played last night.

At this point the most famous song from the LP is “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which the band opened with.

But it was the encore that truly resonated, that had me thrusting my arm in the air and singing along.

Can you sing along to today’s music? Is it a personal anthem that makes you feel powerful? Is it a comment on society that a mass of people believe in?

Come on, I’m talking to you, come on

It was a different era. At best, the millennials were just being born. Being a silent sheep in the mass was yet to come, boomers and Gen X’ers were individuals, who had no problem speaking up for themselves.

Shout, shout, let it all out, these are the things I can do without

Alienation. Thinking for oneself. Belief you’re entitled to something better. These were the ESSENCE of our music way back when. It’s hard to believe in today’s divided era, but it used to be the youth were all on one side, against the establishment, and we felt if we kept pushing the envelope, things would work out for us.

All of this went through my head last night.

I was running on nostalgia, with quaint memories of yesteryear, and then Tears For Fears lit into “Shout” and the past and the present merged, I remembered the power of…

Rock and roll.

But Hall & Oates were a party.

Now you’ve got to understand, the upper deck was full. And many contemporary acts can’t do that. I asked Rob Light why, and he said it was fifty year old nostalgia, the audience had just reached that age and wanted to remember when.

But only a few years ago, Hall and Oates played to 1,500, never mind 15,000, as they did on this mostly arena tour.

You see their time has come.

How did this happen? Was it “Live From Daryl’s House”? Their new manager Jonathan Wolfson? Or did everybody suddenly agree, all these years later, after denigrating them for decades, that the band was great. Kinda like the Carpenters. They’re crapped on, and then Karen dies from the criticism and everyone agrees they were stupendous. Huh?

Now there aren’t many acts like Hall and Oates. I can’t think of one. White boys who straddle the line between soul and rock and roll. But experiencing them last night I thought of their R&B side, they’re from Philadelphia, home of MFSB, and when you hear that sound…

You can’t help moving your body, dancing, feeling good.

The floor at Staples was seated.

But everybody stood. They didn’t worry about aged knees. The music lifted them, literally.

And stunningly, it was half men. Hall & Oates is not a chick thing. And maybe Tears For Fears brought out guys, but I saw guys without women standing and dancing together. Kind of amazing. That something so far from the mainstream really IS the mainstream.

So the story of Hall and Oates is they put out a single that didn’t hit until years later, i.e. “She’s Gone,” and then labored in the wilderness until they switched labels, from Atlantic to RCA, and broke through with “Sara Smile.”

Both of which they performed last night. It was an all hits revue. With one track from “War Babies,” which was a welcome respite, for leavening.

How many other acts can play a headlining show where each and every number is a certified hit?

You can count them on few fingers, my friend.

And the last couple of times I’ve seen Hall and Oates it was outside.

But they belong inside. Because of the nighttime party atmosphere. The sound is trapped, you start to sweat, you’ve got the music in you.

And they played ’em all. From their cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” to the track that made me rush out and buy their album immediately, “Rich Girl.” Now that’s a hit, something that drives you to listen to it incessantly.

And “Rich Girl” was as fresh as ever last night.

But what put the show over the top, what had me grinning like a goose, was the finale…


You see Hall and Oates could not follow their hits. They went fallow. Within years they were playing clubs, I saw them at the Roxy! And then, when they looked completely done, toast, they released an album in the summer of 1980, pre-MTV, produced by themselves, that slowly went NUCLEAR!

At this point they were playing it safe, with the Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann/Phil Spector classic. Once an act resorts to covers, you know they’re lost.

But there are exceptions to every rule. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” stalled at number 11, but within a few months the wholly original “Kiss On My List” went to number one.

And then they were off to the races.

It was the following album with the MTV video, “Private Eyes,” the single was everywhere.

But not as much as “I Can’t Go For That,” which became a cultural staple. NO CAN DO!

And last night Daryl broke in the middle and said everybody had a line.

And I knew exactly what he was talking about. At some point you’ve got to say no. Which in today’s world is taboo. But that’s what got Trump elected, too many left behind people who the elites shun who said I CAN’T GO FOR THAT!

Oh, of course it was more complicated than that, with racism and delusion but…never forget, the elites rule the world but they’re out of touch.

And that was a hit on 1984’s “Big Bam Boom,” along with “Method of Modern Love.” And in between came “H20,” with “Maneater,” “One on One” and “Family Man.” Whew! It was a MACHINE!

Which engendered a label switch to Arista, which put the band in the ground.

But the public was through, the backlash had begun, and Hall and Oates were in the wilderness.

But why? Why is it when you’ve got so many hits the cognoscenti turn against you? It’s happening right now with Ed Sheeran, it’s like they want you to be less talented, just like them.

And Daryl Hall has paid his dues. He’s gonna be 71.

And Oates played music long before the Beatles broke.

They were not chasing fame, they were chasing the SOUND!

And it took them years of effort and experimentation to break through, and then they came back, AND NOW THEY’VE COME BACK AGAIN!

They got a new agent. A young ‘un who wasn’t around the first time. He said they needed to play Madison Square Garden.

No promoter would buy the show. Finally, a west coast outfit stepped in. The band made concessions.

And almost half the house sold immediately.

Now when I used to go to shows, it was a religious experience. We’d sit in chairs and marvel at the band, hearing the records we knew so well, kind of like watching Tears For Fears.

But Hall and Oates is something different. It’s a celebration. Of life.

You are alive, right? You can move, right? You do want to feel good, right?

So the fourth single from 1980’s “Voices,” the one released after “Kiss On My List” went to number one…

Starts with this funky keyboard intro, that sounds like the synthesized 80s married to the soul of the sixties, that’s got you up and twitching like a Mexican jumping bean.

And the verses resonate and the chorus is catchy, but the magic is in the break…

Well listen to this…

And the chords drop down, the song completely changes and then…

I’m down on my daydream
Oh, that sleepwalk should be over by now
I know


It’s that exclamation that puts it over the top. Because unlike too many pretenders Daryl Hall has the music in him, it’s not only about the pipes, but the HUMANITY!

I’m not sure what my dreams are anymore. Get old enough and not only does the brass ring become hazy, you’re not sure grabbing it will satisfy you if you grip it anyway. We live in a dissipated culture with no center, overwhelmed with input with no variation based on veracity or worth, and we end up beaten down and disoriented.

But then I was singing along with a nearly forty year old cut which sounded fresher than what’s on the radio today and all I could think was…

Hall and Oates were making my dream come true.



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