Saturday, October 31, 2009

Show Review: John Oates at the 'Stache Bash at Roberts Orpheum Theatre, Friday, October 30

Posted By on Sat, Oct 31, 2009 at 11:38 AM

Dr. Aaron Perlut, Ph.D., CM, and chairman of the American Mustache Institute, called Friday night's second annual 'Stache Bash "a celebration of ridicularity." With the main floor of the Roberts Orpheum Theater full of costumed and mustached people taking advantage of free Budweiser products, ridicularity reigned supreme for a good cause. Ticket sales benefitted Challenger Baseball.

John Oates had a lot going against him, beyond having to keep up with opening act the Flavor Savers (who were interviewed on Daily RFT earlier this week.) As one of music history's most famous second bananas, does he have the chops to carry a set on his own?

Oates and his four-piece band started with "Camellia", the Oates-penned opening track from Hall and Oates' 1975 self-titled album. Marred by a sound mix that left Oates' vocals overpowered by the instruments, it wasn't looking good. But then he asked if there were any '80s fans before traipsing into a stripped-down version of "Maneater," and it all came together.

The rest of the set would be marked with reworkings of Hall and Oates classics. Oates didn't sing on most of the duo's most-recognized songs, and he doesn't have the blue-eyed-soul style of his absent blond partner. Still, he's a strong vocalist with a rough, blues-fueled style. He turned the smoldering soul of "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" into a funk rave-up, and transformed "Out of Touch" with bare-bones, four-part-harmony. He prefaced "Sara Smile" by saying, "This song's so good even I couldn't screw it up." Although the introduction was off and eventually scrapped, he did the song justice, if not vocally then certainly with his acoustic guitar. His playing's tight -- and in retrospect, was overshadowed and underappreciated in Hall and Oates' heyday.

He had the opportunity to revel in these guitar skills during two songs without the band: Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues" and a country blues take on the traditional "Make a Pallet on Your Floor." On these, Oates showed the heart and skills of a classic bluesman.

Most of this seemed lost on the crowd, which is to be expected when there's free beer and mustaches. Through the beer-fueled nuttiness of the night, Oates and his band kept their senses of humor in check. "We sound better the drunker you are," he said at one point. "So keep drinking, and by the end of the night, we'll sound like the fucking Beatles!"

Seeing Oates without Hall could have felt like wearing one shoe. Instead, through creative arrangements and a hearty sense of humor, he held his own as a musician, as evidenced by how he growled through two tracks from his 2008 solo album, 1000 Miles of Life. "Ghost Town"'s bluesy verses melted into a soulful chorus, and the show-ending title track left the crowd dancing. For an encore, Oates honored his local childhood hero with a searing take on Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie."

By the way: Oates regrew his mustache for the first time in twenty years for the event.

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