St. Petersburg was treated to a little slice of Philly soul Wednesday night when it welcomed two native Pennsylvanian musical giants to the Mahaffey Theater stage. Touring together and boasting a boatload of hit singles to their individual credit, Todd Rundgren and Daryl Hall each brought their A game to a packed house at the ornate music hall and delivered solid performances that ranged from the obscure to the most well-known songs from their repertoires.
Opening the long night of music promptly at the advertised start time of 7:30 p.m., Rundgren wasted no time in getting things started. Clad in a slick, shimmery burgundy suit and donning his ever-present shades, he started the night by delivering a fresh, energized reading of his 1975 single, “Real Man” and instantly set the mood for the entertaining 65-minute set he’d deliver. Not as vocally versatile as he was in his heyday, the veteran singer, songwriter, producer, and ace musician wasn’t able to hit all the high notes like he used to, but more than made up for it throughout his performance. Backed by the same six-piece band that would do double duty and support the night’s headliner later in the evening, Rundgren seemed joyful to be playing in the area, which he’s done several times over the last few months.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been to Florida this year” he joked between songs, but his loyal followers in the audience were more than elated to have him back again.
What Rundgren lacked in vocal range he substituted with a rich soulfulness that added depth to many familiar selections. “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” one of the many standouts from his 1972 masterwork Something/Anything?, was transformed into a bona fide R&B ballad thanks to the soul-infused treatment it was given. Dipping into lesser-known material too, Rundgren threw the diehards a few bones throughout his portion of the show. A guitar-heavy, cranked up version of “Buffalo Grass” from his 2000 release, One Long Year, satisfied Rundgren’s most devout as a surprise in a set list mostly comprised of more familiar material. Again, showing off his more soulful side, the tune shared more than a passing similarity to classic-era Stax rhythm and blues and was punctuated by the incredible sax work of Charlie DeChant, the longtime horn player from the Hall & Oates band.
Rundgren’s true shining moments came towards the end of his performance when he unleashed an abbreviated version of the soul medley that made its first appearance on side two of his 1973 tour de force, A Wizard, A True Star. Faithful renditions of Curtis Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud” and Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” were capped off with a superb version of Marvin Gaye’s sultry ballad “I Want You” that was set to a samba beat.
To close, a hearty version of one of his most dynamic compositions, 1989’s “The Want of a Nail” (originally recorded with R&B legend Bobby Womack sharing vocal duties with Rundgren) ended off the set wonderfully and left the Todd heads in the seats wanting more. Luckily, those fans would get another chance to hear Todd sing again later in the program.
With a short intermission in between sets, the night’s headliner also wasted no time in launching into his portion of the concert. Daryl Hall, the tall, blonde half of Hall & Oates, the hitmaking duo that burst onto the music scene in the early-‘70s, had released several impressive solo albums throughout his tenure as Joan Oates’ musical partner. For his current tour, titled the “Before After” tour, named after his current two-CD retrospective of his solo work, Hall is focusing on the music he’s recorded as a standalone act.
Walking onstage as the backing band had already kicked off the intro to Hall’s 1986 top ten hit “Dreamtime,” Hall coolly took his place at centerstage. Dressed all in black and also sporting a pair of sunglasses, he sounded to be in fine vocal form for the first selection of the night.
A backdrop that depicted the house Hall performs in throughout his long-running, live music program “Live from Daryl’s House” and a neon sign boasting the show’s graphic logo hung behind the band and were complemented by loads of sparkling lights that also adorned the stage. Hall benefitted from a superb sound mix that was clear and expertly mixed (as Rundgren had earlier) but seemed troubled by the mix coming from the monitors at his feet onstage. Constantly motioning to the monitors and then making several hand gestures while looking towards the wings of the stage, it appeared that Hall was having difficulty hearing what the monitors were putting out. To his credit, he kept his cool and remained jovial throughout the night despite his sound issues continuing throughout the performance.
Touting his current solo anthology and offering insight into many of the songs he unveiled, the show felt like a more intimate, personal experience than a typical Hall & Oates concert. Performing in a theater, in closer proximity to the audience, and with the luxury of playing songs he doesn’t normally get to perform, this was a more energized and engaged Daryl Hall than what many local audiences have witnessed at the last several H&O shows that have rolled through in recent years.
For one of his many spoken intros, Hall talked about “It’s Uncanny,” an obscure selection from the Hall & Oates catalog that never saw the light of day until it was included on a compilation record the duo’s former record label, Atlantic Records, threw together in the 1970s. “I had nothing to do with that shit,” Hall joked before delivering a stunning version of the song that boasts an authentic Philly soul sound and benefitted from DeChant’s clever sax work.
Other jaw dropping moments came when Hall dipped back to his fantastic (yet grossly overlooked) debut solo album, Sacred Songs. Recorded in 1977 with musical virtuoso and King Crimson founder Robert Fripp, the record didn’t see a proper release until 1980 due to the label’s refusal to release what it found to be a less-than-commercial sounding album. It’s since become a fan favorite and hearing both the title track and the very Steely Dan-sounding “Babs and Babs” from that album was a true highlight of the night.
Hall revisited the deep album cut from the Hall & Oates blockbuster album, 1980’s Voices, “Everytime You Go Away” and spoke of the success the song enjoyed in the mid-80s when British pop singer Paul Young turned it into a worldwide smash hit with his version. For this reading of it, Hall took the song from a gospel-tinged tone and morphed it into a quasi-funk jam towards the tail-end of it.
Moving over to a grand piano on the side of the stage, Hall got to switch gears and try his hand at a well-known hit by another popular 1980s duo, Eurythmics. Having worked with Dave Stewart in the past (as he produced Hall’s second solo album, 1986’s Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine), Hall tipped his hat at Stewart and his musical partner, Annie Lennox, by performing a sparse, torch ballad version of that pair’s 1983 hit, “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Accompanied only by lead guitarist Shane Theriot on acoustic guitar, the song took on a more soulful, jazz-inspired feel thanks to this unique interpretation.
Relying on more familiar material to close out the main set, Hall fell back on H&O staples “Sara Smile” and “I Can’t Go For That” which inspired pockets of patrons to stand and dance in the aisles. Improvising vocally and standing at an electric piano at the front of the stage, Hall seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself almost as much as those dancing to the music he was putting out were.
Bringing back his old friend (and onetime Hall & Oates album producer) Todd Rundgren, the pair kicked off an encore that featured a stunning duet on “Wait For Me,” a minor Hall & Oates hit from 1979 as well as Rundgren’s soul-inspired ballad from 1978, “Can We Still Be Friends.” Paying tribute to their local roots, the pair also revived the ‘60s hit “Expressway to Your Heart,” originally recorded by Soul Survivors, a Philadelphia-based bar band that enjoyed nationwide success thanks to that classic which was written by the godfathers of the Philly soul sound, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
Closing the show with one of the most familiar Hall & Oates tunes, “You Make My Dreams,” Daryl Hall gleefully ended on a high note after showing off all his many talents throughout his 95-minute set. This was a rare glimpse for many of his fans to see the artist perform without the constraints or limitations of playing standard and expected hit songs and to, instead, stretch out a little and revisit some true gems that hardly get the live treatment they so richly deserve.