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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hall and Oates @ Summerfest

June 29, 2011

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The line-up for Summerfest 2011 features a number of contemporary heavy hitters: Kanye West, Britney Spears, the Flaming Lips, and Florence the Machine, to name a few. And while Milwaukee's annual music festival will never be as hip as other gatherings such as Chicago's Pitchfork Festival and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, event organizers have made a concerted effort to bring Summerfest into the 21st century. For many younger Milwaukee music fans, such a strategy—along with a commitment to showcase up-and-coming local bands —has led to renewed interest in the world's largest music festival.

Yet the past is never fully forgotten at Summerfest, as was evident in Hall and Oates' stellar opening-night performance on the M & I Classic Rock stage. It is easy to dismiss the duo as little more than a nostalgic act, one that continues to draw from a catalog of songs that really hasn't changed since the 1980s. But such a dismissive stance ignores the fact that Hall and Oates have crafted some of the best pure pop songs of the past 30 years. At the same time, the pair, backed by a crack supporting band, spent the evening reworking some of their best-known material. Set openers "Maneater" and "Family Man" featured a beefed-up guitar sound, along with gruffer vocal leads by Daryl Hall. Hall's soulful voice remains absolutely stunning after all these years, with age only bringing a hint of coarseness to his signature vocal style.

As one might expect, the pair leaned heavily on their greatest hits, running through competent versions of "Out of Touch," "Rich Girl," "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," and a particularly rocking version of "Adult Education." But the highlight of the set was two songs from Abandoned Luncheonette (1973), the duo's underrated second album. The loose, folk-inflected sounds of "Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)" and "She's Gone" were the perfect soundtrack for a warm summer night.

In light of the joy and emotion that Hall & Oates still bring to the stage, questions of whether or not the pair remains relevant quickly faded away. In fact, their set put on display the inclusiveness that remains the core strength of Summerfest: hipsters, teenage girls, middle-age couples and even octogenarians clapped along to the set-closing "Private Eyes." One couldn't ask for a better way to start the festival.