CD Review of Live at the Troubadour by Daryl Hall & John Oates
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Daryl Hall & John Oates:
Live at the Troubadour

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


hen you’ve been releasing albums for nearly 40 years and long ago cemented your status as the most successful recording duo of all time – but have spent the back half of your career watching your commercial fortunes dwindle – it’s got to be difficult to come up with reasons to make new music, which probably has a lot to do with why Daryl Hall and John Oates have spent the last five years plugging the gap between new studio albums with a covers disc, a Christmas collection, and now Live at the Troubadour, a two-CD, one-DVD document of their shows at the venerable L.A. club in May of ’08.

As stopgaps go, Hall and Oates fans could do worse – although bootlegs of the duo are plentiful, their only officially released live albums are Livetime!, a dreadful seven-song set released 30 years ago, 1985’s Live at the Apollo, another seven-song effort that featured backing vocals from David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and 2001’s Greatest Hits Live, a lazy piece of product that collected an early ‘80s concert years after the fact. Hall and Oates aren’t the Stones, in other words – and even if very few live albums are truly necessary, at least this one isn’t as exploitative as it could have been.

Happily, Live at the Troubadour also finds the duo in fine form, both musically and vocally; although Daryl Hall’s famous vocal range has started to fade and fray, he can still handle his own back catalog, and he’s thankfully toned down or done away with most of the obnoxious New Jack Swing tics that plagued his delivery starting in the early ‘90s. As for Oates, well, based on his one lead vocal here (more on that in a minute), he sounds as good as ever. What really makes Troubadour worth hearing, though, is the way Hall and Oates present their old hits here, stripping back the layers of ‘80s production and taking the songs back to their roots. They employ a big band, and the arrangements are certainly busy, but all their original bombast is gone – there isn’t even an electric guitar on the stage.

Also of note for longtime fans is the set list’s inclusion of a handful of tracks from 1973’s Abandoned Luncheonette album, in honor of the fact that it had been 35 years since Hall and Oates had played the Troubadour. The record’s big hit, "She’s Gone," makes an obvious appearance, but here it’s joined by the little-heard chestnuts "When the Morning Comes," "Had I Known You Better Then," and Luncheonette’s epic (for Hall & Oates) title track. They also haul "It’s Uncanny" out of mothballs for one of the best performances of the night, ultimately affording roughly a third of the set’s tracks for older non-hits and providing a nice bit of balance for fans who never need to hear another version of "I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)."

Unfortunately, the set list also makes room for one of Hall’s lamest solo cuts (the interminable "Cab Driver") and "Getaway Car," which is not only one of the worst songs from 2003’s Do It for Love, but one of the dumbest things Hall and Oates have ever recorded. Hall has said that his partnership with Oates isn’t an equal one, and that Oates would be the first to acknowledge it – and that might be true, but Oates (and the audience) deserves a more even split than 18 parts Hall to one part Oates. It wasn’t always this way, either; although Hall has always dominated the albums and shows, it’s only been over the last 10 years or so that their partnership has become Daryl Hall Occasionally Featuring John Oates.

Daryl Hall John Oates

Quibbles aside, Live at the Troubadour is still an enjoyable show, and as an added bonus, the included DVD features not only all the songs from the CDs, but a pair of (admittedly brief and not at all insightful) interviews with Hall and Oates. (You can also find Troubadour on Blu-ray, but the content appears to be the same; unless you’re really itching to see the duo’s middle-aged faces in hi-def, you can probably avoid it.) All told, it’s a nice collection of content for something you can get for just over $20 at Amazon. Only diehard Hall and Oates fans will – or should – consider it essential, but the same could be said of anything Hall and/or Oates have released in the last 20 years. If they’re going to spin their wheels, this is a nice way to do it.

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