Tears for Fears and Hall & Oates successfully showcase different sonic sensitivities of the 80s
I have always questioned the rather prevalent trend of labeling “The 80s” as a genre of pop music for all music that was created in the 1980s. This single (and rather unwarranted) label to describe all the music from one of the last creative eras of pop music suggests a homogeneity in the musical mainstream that wasn’t quite there. In reality, the musical mainstream spanned several influential genres namely R&B, Hair Metal, New Wave, New Jack Swing, Jazz pop, Soul, Rap, Conventional pop, and Classic Rock. Songs from all these genres featured in the Billboard top 40 singles chart (the official singles chart of the US). The double-bill concert at Forest Hills Stadium on June 16, 2017 featuring the globally successful duos Hall & Oates and Tears For Fears is a reminder of the staggering musical diversity that the 80s showcased. It is unclear if the bands’ fanbases have any significant overlap judging by the fact the bands weren’t exactly viewed as genre-based contemporaries – even though they reached their commercial prime at roughly the same time (i.e. early to mid-80s). While standing in line, to enter the venue, on multiple occasions I overheard someone asking the question “Who are you actually here to see – Hall and Oates or Tears for Fears?”. Hall and Oates’ music sonic template was Philly Soul seasoned with conventional Rock & Roll and R&B. The serendipitous union of Daryl Hall and John Oates was fueled by gun shots fired by rival gangs at the Adelphi Ballroom in Philadelphia leading to the two young men arriving at the same service elevator during their escape. Tears For Fears, on the other hand, were poster-children for the British New Wave Invasion of the global pop music scene. Band members Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith crossed paths as session musicians for the band Neon in their hometown of Bath (England). The sonic progression from their synth pop roots to a rock band in the early 90s was quite rapid – with each album showcasing a new musical incarnation for the band. Hall & Oates and Tears For Fears are an unlikely concert pairing – to say the least.
This review would be incomplete without at least a short description of the venue. Forest Hills Stadium is a rather unconventional venue by most standards. Curt Smith of Tears for Fears took the occasion to point that out half way through the Tears for Fears setlist when he said “this is an interesting venue wherein the lights go off exactly at 10 p.m. Hence, we have to play stupidly early while it is still bright outside”. It is nestled in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Forest Hills (Queens, New York) and is attached to the West Side Tennis Club – home to the US Open from 1915 to 1920 and then from 1924 to 1977. Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears took a few minutes to highlight the sports history linked to this venue. The word “stadium” in its name is somewhat deceptive. In reality, it is an intimate venue that just happens to be outdoors. Most seats offer a fairly close view of the stage. The downside of the venue is that for those that think they can walk in to the venue quickly and get seated immediately at any time of their choosing will undoubtedly be in for a rude shock. Security takes a significant amount of time. As a result, many missed the first few songs of Tears For Fears’ setlist. In fact, I could not help but feel sorry for Tears for Fears playing to a venue in which the people were still sauntering in slowly as late as halfway through their setlist.
Tears for Fears did not let the non-ideal elements of Forest Hills stadium deter them. They performed with the gusto and spunk that fans have come to expect of them. Given that they were in effect sharing the stage that evening with Hall & Oates, their setlist was far shorter than their typical setlist. They used their song real estate largely to showcase the hits that have embedded them permanently in the history books of pop music. That being said, they also managed to showcase their penchant for occasionally straying from the safe and conventional. They played two songs (“Secret World” and “Everybody loves a happy ending“)from their last studio album titled “Everybody loves a happy ending” (2004) – an album with a Beatles-esque vibe and a rather polarizing effect on the band’s fanbase. They also performed a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep“. While I applaud them for managing to go above and beyond what fans expect of them, I cannot help but think it would be nice if they surprised us with more tracks from the era of Tears For Fears in which Roland Orzabal was the only core member. The performance of sonic gems such as “Goodnight song” and “God’s Mistake” would definitely send fans down a path of discovery and perhaps make them rethink their view of Tears For Fears as an “80s band”. During the setlist, Curt Smith shared this love for New York City – his first home base in the US after he moved from the UK and left Tears for Fears for over a decade. He also highlighted the fact that it was a New York radio station that was one the first patrons of songs from their debut album “The Hurting” in the US. Hence, Curt Smith indicated that it was only appropriate for him to pay tribute to this city by featuring a few songs from this album. The audience received songs such as “Memories fade“, “Change“, and “Pale Shelter” with open arms. The backing vocals by Carina Round (who is six months pregnant) added something that made the live versions of these songs for superior to their original studio versions. The song that finally got the audience off its seats and dancing away in a bout of euphoria was “Break it down again” – the lead single from Tears for Fears’ “Elemental” album. The enthusiasm continued through performances of tracks such as “Head over heels” and the encore track “Shout“. To say that Tears for Fears delivered a strong performance befitting their stellar legacy would quite the understatement. I can barely wait for the new album that they have been teasing for the last couple of years.
There was the equivalent of an intermission between the Tears for Fears and the Hall and Oates setlist. It was the first real opportunity I had to observe the audience. Quite surprisingly, while a significant portion of the audience skewed older, there was a non-trivial faction of peope under 40 (or perhaps under the age of 30) in the audience. I attribute this largely to Hall and Oates. Between the two acts of the evening, I have always considered Tears for Fears to be the more potent force (musically speaking) to be reckoned with. The music of Hall & Oates has been intricately woven into other facets (e.g. movies such as “She’s out of my league”) of pop culture thus making them the more culturally relevant of the two acts to a younger audience. That might explain why this audience was far more diverse from an age demographic perspective than the typical Tears for Fears concert audience is.
After the sun set, the large screens on the stage were lit up. Daryl Hall and John Oates took to the stage and were embraced with delirious screams and applause from the audience. They opened with hits from their album “H2O” – namely “Family Man” and “Maneater” (their most recognizable hit for the younger audience). The rockier introductions to each uptempo song that they played that evening made it challenging for the audience to figure out what song they were playing initially. On the flip side, the element of surprise when the vocals kicked in was beyond exhilarating. As the hits rolled one after another, the show served as reminder that this duo was far from a “one trick pony”. It is virtually impossible to tie their legacy down to one signature hit. Age has not eroded Daryl Hall’s ability for a stellar vocal delivery. That being said, he was far less generous with the use of his trademark falsetto in this concert. In fact, this distinct element of his vocal was conspicuous by its absence on songs such as “Say it isn’t so” and the achingly beautiful “One and One“. It was also refreshing to hear John Oates’ vocals on “You’ve lost that loving feeling“.
The element of this concert that set it far apart from a typical live concert experience is the use of musical interpolation via instrumental solo sections by Charles DeChant on the saxophone and Eliot Lewis (CORRECTION: Shane Theriot) on the electric guitar on almost every song. Charles DeChant upped the ante further with a flute solo on his introduction to the infectious “I can’t go for that (no can do)“. These goosebump-inducing musical interpolations have injected new life into the old classics. The band seriously ought to consider re-recording these classics with these delectable instrumental solo sections in a studio setting as opposed to a live setting. All these songs could become modern classics in their own right.
One of the defining moments of the concert was Daryl Hall’s introduction to the Steely Dan-esque “Is it a star” from their 1974 album “War Babies“. Hall described “War Babies” as being one of their more experimental albums. With a tinge of self-deprecation he said that the duo had no idea what they were doing on this album but that they were “trying”. Dary Hall emphasized that “but we were trying and that is what matters”. That one statement is a reminder that superior artistry is a culmination of years of fearless and unbridled experimentation. This tradition is sadly eschewed in the modern musical mainstream. Fortunately, Indie artists still have an almost dogged faith in this notion of a path to artistry. The inclusion of “Is it a star” was a fascinating glimpse into the path that Daryl Hall and John Oates traversed to scale the commercial highs that they did by the early 80s.
It is a lofty expectation to think that a legacy that spans multiple decades can be showcased in a single concert setlist. As a result, the setlist did have its noteworthy omissions – namely hits such as “Wait for me” and “Kiss on my list“. Interestingly enough, these songs have been played at other concerts on this tour. Hence, anyone (me included) that read prior setlists on this tour and expected these songs to be played likely set themselves up for at least a moderate level of disappointment.
To say that attending this concert was a privilege would be quite the understatement. To have two different takes on the 80s and early 90s showcased in a single evening by pop music royalty is almost too much of a good thing (not that I’m complaining!). As the crowd poured out of the venue at the end of the concert singing various songs from the evening and continuing the night’s celebration at various bars and restaurants in the Forest Hills neighborhood, there was a poignant moment for me – underscored by this realization that the existence of these musical greats such as Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears cannot be taken for granted and that we ought to take the opportunity to enjoy the best of these people while they are still alive. The tragic departures of David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael from our world last year should be a reminder of the ephemeral nature of mortality and how we ought to cherish the joy that these acts have brought to our lives by essentially providing the soundtrack to key milestones in our own personal journeys. This realization gave me a sense of gratitude – one that put a smile on my face as I got on the “R” train to leave the Forest Hills neighborhood for my home.
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Tears For Fears and Hall & Oates has been a regular staple on our station ever since its inception back in 2007. We also routinely feature some of the less-celebrated gems from these artists – including newer songs such as “Secret World” and “Floating down the river” by Tears For Fears.
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