Hall and Oates make fans’ dreams come true at Allentown Fair
In the mid-1970s and ’80s, Hall and Oates became a huge success by playing to the heart of American music fans: They offered pleasant pop songs, many tinged with R&B and blue-eyed soul, that appealed to the masses — even if none of them challenged borders or broke new ground.
Nearly 50 years since Hall and Oates’ breakthrough hits and 35 years after their commercial peak, they are now the best-selling duo in music history. So who would expect them to change that formula as headliner of the Allentown Fair grandstand on Sunday?
And they didn’t, instead giving the audience of what appeared to be about 8,500 what it undoubtedly wanted: essentially a greatest-hits show that, to paraphrase their lyrics, made the audience’s dreams come true.
Of the 15 songs Hall and Oates played in a 96-minute set, 14 were Top 10 hits from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s. The duo played all six No. 1 hits, and every one of their gold records.
That’s not to say every song was played perfectly.
Backed by a six-man band, Hall and Oates opened with two of those chart-toppers: “Maneater” and “Out of Touch,” both from the early 1980s, when Hall and Oates ruled the radio.
But they were altered: The former slower, lighter, and not as menacing; the latter at a slightly different pace. But the vibe of both, and Hall’s voice, were instantly recognizable.
Just as those songs gave a feeling of familiarity, Hall greeted the crowd by saying, “Hello Allentown — this is home territory for us. You know that — you know where we come from,” referring to the singers’ roots in the area and former Philadelphia base.
Hall even introduced “Adult Education” by saying, “I went to high school around here [Pottstown’s Owen J. Roberts High] so that’s what this is about.”
That song was tweaked into a jazzy-rock arrangement, and on “Method of Modern Love,” Hall at times sang so staccato that it was almost scat.
But Hall, 72, told the crowd that he and Oates, 71, were “going to play a lot of stuff tonight — hit a lot of eras.” And indeed they did.
The rest of the set was that greatest hits run, played mostly just as you remembered them. And part of that was because Hall’s voice literally didn’t sound as if it had changed at all.
And many still had the attraction of all those years ago.
“Say It Isn’t So” from 1983 was perhaps just a bit more modern and mature, but the distinctive sax solo from Charles DeChant, who has played with the duo since 1976, was the same.
“One on One” from 1987 most captured that 1980s light rock feel, and Hall even sang falsetto on it.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame duo’s cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” which in 1980 resurrected Hall and Oates’ string of hits, sounded closer to the original than ever — which served to spotlight Oates’ deeper vocals at the start.
“She’s Gone,” the 1973 breakthrough hit that became an even bigger hit upon re-release in 1977 “took us out of Philly and took us into the world,” Hall said. It was so close to its original presentation that the audience, many of them 50somethings, was grooving to it. And they cheered it strongly.
Hall sat at a grand piano and Oates took over lead guitar to play 1976’s “Sara Smile,” the song that truly turned Hall and Oates into a top act. While it was embellished — Hall did a falsetto-and-piano coda — it, too, kept very close to the original vibe. And that, too, was richly rewarded by the crowd.
The closest thing to a surprise all night was the 1974 deep cut (“from the early days!” Hall said) “Is It a Star.” But the song wasn’t more than a curiosity. The duo stretched it out, and it gave Oates another chance to shine on guitar (he did well), but it was obvious why it wasn’t a hit.
The main set closed with the 1981 No. 1 gold hit “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” and it’s such as good song, it was wise that Hall and Oates played it pretty much like the original, catching the sinewy, funky groove that reminded everyone why it was such a hit. And again the sax part was nailed.
The song stretched to 10 minutes, and with the audience standing, Hall and Oates had it sing the bridge, which it gladly did.
In such a concise set, there were a few more songs for which Hall and Oates seemingly could have made room. They skipped the pleasant 1982 Top 10 hit “Did It in a Minute,” and one of the few Hall and Oates songs that had an edge: 1983’s “Family Man,” maybe because it wasn’t written by them?
Also skipped was the duo’s last Top 10 hit, 1988’s “Everything Your Heart Desires.”
But the encore was packed with some of its biggest songs.
It started with “Rich Girl,” Hall and Oates’ 1977 gold hit that became the first to reach No. 1. It, too, stayed in its classic presentation.
Then two more No. 1 gold hits, “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes,” both from 1981.
The audience cheered the bouncy opening notes of the former, and started dancing and clapping above its heads, and the duo seamlessly segued into the latter.
It closed with a song that was more of a statement, a sixminute version of “You Make My Dreams.”
And indeed, Hall and Oates seemed to, as the song says, make its fans’ dreams come true.
Morning Call Lehigh Valley Music reporter and columnist John J. Moser can be reached at 610-820-6722 or [email protected] .com
Of the 15 songs Hall and Oates played in a 96-minute set, 14 were Top 10 hits from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s.