About 45 years after making their Twin Cities debut, 29 years after their last hit and 16 years after their last album of original material, Daryl Hall & John Oates — the biggest selling duo in rock history — made their Minnesota State Fair debut on Wednesday.
And, five years after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hall & Oates sold out the grandstand — all 13,177 seats — in advance.
Maybe it was the long wait — especially since the Twin Cities was where Hall & Oates began to break nationally, thanks to airplay on KQRS — but Hall sure seemed restless on Wednesday.
After all these years, the Philadelphia singer/guitarist/keyboardist doesn’t seem to want to be confined by those tight arrangements of songs that made Hall & Oates blue-eyed soul heroes in the ’70s and MTV synth-pop staples in the ’80s. No, he wants to be the adventurous musician who starred on the web series “Live from Daryl’s House” from 2007-16.
That’s why on Wednesday Hall found a modern EDM groove on “Method of Modern Love,” took liberties with the melody on “Kiss on My List,” ended up riffing like Al Green in “One on One” and tried to turn the slinky soul of “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” into a jazz-funk jam that never caught fire.
Indeed, the 90-minute performance seldom caught fire partly because of Hall’s voice. The 72-year-old wasn’t as hoarse as he sounded last year at Xcel Energy Center (with Train as opening act) or as impressive vocally as in 2017 in St. Paul (with Tears for Fears).
Not only did Hall take most songs in lower keys (no crime there), but his pitch wavered from time to time. His voice has lost its prettiness but not its passion or potency.
He sang like he still cared, especially on a deeply soulful reading of “Sara Smile” — complete with some improvised passages — at a grand piano. “One on One” showcased his appealing falsetto and alluring flair for churchy testifying. And he was at his H & O best on crisp versions of “Rich Girl” and “Private Eyes” during the encore.
Vocal harmonies by six band members — everyone but the drummer — buoyed Hall’s performance.
Always the second fiddle to Hall, Oates, 71, took a vocal turn on 1974’s deep track “Is It a Star,” a dramatic space-fueled rock ‘n’ soul number that sounded like an Earth, Wind & Fire reject. Oates was also featured on a cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’” which paled after the revamped Righteous Brothers performed it at the State Fair last year.
Oates essayed a few guitar solos, but most of the guitar spotlight shone on Shane Theriot, an expressive soloist who was given fewer opportunities this time than last. Even longtime H & O saxophonist Charlie DeChant, who was wearing a sparkly brocade sport jacket that could have come from Morris Day’s closet, was reined in more than usual.
This particular show was about Hall. During the encore, he talked about how Philadelphia, his hometown, and Minneapolis “come from the same place.” He didn’t have to mention Prince by name but nothing compares to him — especially Daryl Hall on an off night.
Compared to Tears for Fears or Train, this year’s opening act, G. Love and Special Sauce, was strikingly low-profile and low-key. The Philly trio’s folk-blues was more casual than compelling, and their old alt-hip hop tunes, notably “Baby’s Got Sauce” and “Cold Beverage,” seemed less vital and fresh than when they were staples in mid-’90s on Rev 105, the ultrahip but now-defunct Twin Cities radio station to which Love gave a shout-out.