There are songs that drive one crazy on the radio. Some hits have inhabited pop stations for so long that you know every inflection, each pause in the run of a guitar riff, and if you are trapped in a public place and can’t kill the station, you must grind teeth and relive the experience. Many of Daryl Hall and John Oates’ songs, just by dint of their frequent repetition and blue eyed white boy soul trappings fit this bill. Seeing them live, however, proved an almost liberating revelation.
Songs like “Maneater,” for instance. The song opened the Santa Barbara Bowl set following a quiet soul session by solo guitarist Mutlu. The intro rolled up on the crowd like a wave, while people looked around puzzled, which happened a few times throughout the night. When the familiar hooks arrived, however, the crowd got on its feet and danced. The audience itself was a show; clearly half of those in attendance were young hipsters by appearance, though a nice contingent of long in the tooth fans rocked out, too. The experience was hilariously repeated when the first hit of the duo’s half-century of hits “Sara Smile” opened in a nice haze of musical colors and bump. Hall had introduced the song as the one they never got tired of playing. And when the sweet recognizable core of the cut emerged, the crowd went daffy. Maybe it was because the arrangements favored rock, with just hints of psychedelia, new wave, soul, and disco flavorings, but on Sunday the familiar seemed suddenly timeless.
Best of all, however, were the long jams. (And yes, I know that sounds unlikely.) A two-song medley of “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” got cleverly stitched to “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” (incidentally, my least favorite radio song) and the transition was full of interesting ideas, while the sax interlude by their great longtime accompanist Charles DeChant maintained the impetus and illuminated the hit from within. It was all about stretching and animating and even though I would prefer to see them next time in a small club where dancing was mandatory, this seamless show proved that two 60-something boys can be Top 40 hit makers with real music in their souls.