By photojournalist Jeffrey Moellering
1980s pop icon and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Daryl Hall brought his popular “Live from Daryl’s House” show on the road for a limited engagement concert tour, including a recent stop at the elegant Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg FL, where Tampa Bay Music News had the pleasure to attend.
The tour was accompanied by fellow classic crooner and prog rocker Todd Rundgren, who like Daryl Hall, hails from the Philadelphia area. They were both steeped in the rich soul tradition of Philadelphia music, citing songwriters Gamble & Huff, and area bands including the O’Jays, The Spinners, The Delfonics, and The Stylistics as among their influences. Rundgren and Hall ultimately helped to carve out a niche of their own, known as blue-eyed soul.
Even though both Daryl and Todd grew up in the Philly area during the 1960s, and share similar strains in their compositions, they had only collaborated once back in 1974, when Rundgren as a renowned studio wiz, produced the Hall & Oates album “War Babies”. Then in 2011, Daryl’s House show traveled to Rundgren’s Hawaii home, where they filmed an episode of the show. They both realized the wealth of ideas they shared and knew that a further collaboration was long overdue.
This Daryl’s House tour features Todd Rundgren with an opening set of his material, performing with the very talented “Daryl’s House Band”, as seen on the series’ broadcasts. Todd was in his element acting as the impresario, marching around the stage, and conducting the band through a rousing romp of selected favorites from his catalog. After a few songs on vocals Todd picked up the guitar and tore into his blues rocker “Black Maria”, displaying his remarkable gifts on the instrument, which bellowed throughout the high theater walls. Now in his 70s, Todd is still a stunning vocalist, able to soundly resonate through several registers. He sometimes becomes a bit enamored of his own gifts, engaging in a bit of auditory histrionics, but the ultimate effect remains impressive nonetheless, and his hour-plus set was professional and polished, wowing many in the crowd who showed up as Hall & Oates fans, not sure what to expect from Rundgren.
Daryl Hall next took the stage with his house band, the theater backdrop projected with interior images of his own country house in upstate New York, adding to the authenticity and intimacy of the set, like a well-weathered roadhouse.
This is the first time Daryl Hall has taken the Daryl’s House Band on the road, in support of his upcoming release of a double CD career retrospective called “Before After”, which is also the name of the current tour. And while he’s released numerous solo albums through the years, Hall hasn’t had much opportunity to highlight those songs in a live format, given his busy touring schedule with Hall & Oates.
The evening found Hall in fine form as a bandleader, while also on guitar and piano, able to be more relaxed and intimate, without all the trappings involved with a large concert hall tour. Daryl provided contextual portraits of the background from his solo songs, noting their inspiration and meaning to him. You could tell that Hall is having a great time, beyond the boundaries and constraints of an international pop star, playing for his pleasure this late in his career, hoping his fans enjoy the little hootenanny vibe of this tour.
Not surprisingly, many in attendance came hoping to re-live their high school days with a full-on Hall & Oates hit parade, and I overheard some grumbles in the crowd that he hadn’t yet played their favorite song of choice. He did ultimately play several Hall & Oates hits, done in a breezier kind of arrangement than the techno-pop radio format of the 1980s.
Later in the set, Todd Rundgren returned and sang a few songs with Daryl as well, harmonizing in fine fashion on Todd’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” classic. The evening finished off with a spirited version of the Hall & Oates hit “You Make My Dreams”, and by that time, nearly everyone was up from their seats dancing in the aisles, myself included! It’s refreshing to see a musician who has had so much success in the pop world, now have the luxury to explore different aspects of his artistry.
Those who loved the great hits now realize that he has a broader musical palette, and those who considered the pop hits as throwaway songs, saw that Hall is indeed a genuine talent. Every stop along the way must be a revelation for Hall, perhaps more gratifying than simply being a teen heartthrob, and we’re grateful for his willingness to push boundaries and continue exploring. Eventually, childhood idols do grow up, and this one has in fact aged like a fine wine to savor, mellow and complex.