Hall & Oates / Trombone Shorty / Sharon Jones. Red Rocks. 09.12.16
Summer might have a couple weeks before hibernation, but the air smelled of autumn as I tried to avoid staring at an older couple who were sucking face as if they were teenagers in a movie theater. Public displays of affection have never been my thing, but I’ve always been a firm believer that age is nothing but a number, so who am I to judge post-retirement passion? In fact, this year has been a celebration of those who have found the fountain of youth. Over the past twelve months I have witnessed Patti Smith, Brian Johnson, Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Dolly Parton, Robin Zander, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Hagar, and Bonnie Raitt all rage against the dying of the light; they keep the flame burning for those who have been brutally ripped from the physical world. The deaths of Lemmy, Bowie, Haggard, and Prince (among too many others) have reinforced the idea of impermanence, but they have also taught us to appreciate what we have during our short time together.
Sharon Jones is the living embodiment of making the best use of that time. At 60 years old, Jones is battling her second round of cancer, but she is no victim. “I got cancer; cancer don’t got me!” she declared from the stage at Red Rocks as the setting sun flickered in her eyes. Surrounded by the 8-piece Dap-Kings, along with a pair of backup singers, the woman who is the subject of a documentary film titled Miss Sharon Jones! sang, shook, and strutted herself around the stage like it was her own personal dance floor. It was a shame that so many in the audience didn’t share her enthusiasm as she ripped through “She Ain’t a Child No More” and “100 Days, 100 Nights”, but when she dedicated “Get Up and Get Out” to her disease (“not talking about a man no more…talking about cancer”) the respectful people in the crowd were on their feet in support.
Wearing the same dress as when she played the Ogden in 2010 made it obvious she had lost some weight due to her treatment, and rocking a bald head instead of her signature braids was a sure sign of chemo, but she seriously looked fantastic. It had to have been cold up there (I was in jeans, a hoodie, and a hat and it was still chilly), but that didn’t stop her from kicking off her shoes (so she could “do it fast, like Tina Turner would do it,”) as she proceeded to “dance the cancer out.” It was somewhat surprising that Jones and the always impeccable Dap-Kings were the first act of the night, but their 40 minute set was worth showing up early for. I just wish the audience in the front section of the amphitheater would have been as alive as those on the stage. Funk and soul isn’t meant to be watched from the comfort of a folding chair; it is meant to move to.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were the highlight of my night when I saw them open for Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks in 2012, so I was looking forward to their set. I wasn’t quite prepared for their set though. They performed in broad daylight four years ago and it was very brief. They ran through a sampling of classic New Orleans sounds for the small crowd and then they were done. It was a very different scene this time around. First of all, it was loud. Real loud. I was making my way back from grabbing a beer when the lights went down and Pete Murano succeeded in filling every inch of space between the monoliths with screaming guitars chords. Ballard’s bass and Peebles’ drum work were the thunder to Oestreicher and Jackson’s lightning saxophones. Mr. Shorty hadn’t even picked up his trombone yet and the night had already cracked wide open.
Once again, the majority of the crowd still thought it was a spectator sport, but Trombone Shorty and his New Orleans crew of master musicians drown out the sounds of those who were complaining about not being able to see over those who were dancing. The incredible instrumental intro led into the funky “Lose My Mind” (with a little James Brown thrown in), before Shorty set down his instrument to focus on lead vocals. “The Craziest Thing” was up next, and then the band took us “down to Tipitina’s in New Orleans” with “It Ain’t No Use”. Shorty egged Murano on as he took the opportunity to throw a quick solo into the jam, before Jackson was given some time to shine with a sax solo of his own. Gathered around each other, playing off one another like Crazy Horse used to do, the band ventured into Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” before wrapping the song back around on itself.
Trombone Shorty became Trumpet Shorty for the last couple selections. At one point, during the set closer, he blew on that trumpet for what seemed like an impossible about of time. His cheeks filled with balloons stretched to pop as he played and played until he couldn’t play anymore…and when he finally stopped to take a breath, the elevation seemed to hit him. There were more notes to follow, but every time he put the instrument to his mouth, he just smiled and put it down again. His favorite word throughout the night was ‘party’, as in “we partying! we came to party! let’s party!” and party he did. He literally partied until he couldn’t party anymore. It was an amazingly energetic and fun set. I can only imagine what it would be like to see them in a small club, with people who actually wanted to party instead of sitting on their asses.
“Down in front!” The house lights had just been turned off and a white arch of LEDs framed the stage in a blinding way. The young girls in front of us had the audacity to stand up for the headliners and the guy beside me wasn’t having it. He yelled at them a few more times before they finally gave in. Luckily for them (and the rest of us who were there to have a good time) they didn’t have to sit for long. A few seconds later Daryl Hall and John Oates took the stage with their 6-piece band and people finally found their feet. I’m sure there were those who stubbornly sat in protest, but majority ruled and 90% of the audience were on their feet for the entirety of the Hall & Oates set, which was actually kind of funny, given that it was the most mellow set of the whole evening.
Having seen Hall & Oates perform at the 1stBank Center a couple years ago, I thought I knew what to expect. I have fond memories of that performance, with the exception of hating the venue. We were crowded together in rows of folding chairs on the floor of the arena with no room to move or dance. I also remember the show starting and ending way too early. In fact, I think it was almost over by 9:00pm, which just happened to be their starting time at Red Rocks. That being said, the show started out much the same. “Maneater” opened things up before Daryl addressed the crowd, and then they went right into “Out of Touch”. Being outside at Red Rock was so much better than being cramped into that corporate events center up north. It helped that the opening acts had really warmed things up as well. I don’t even know if there was an opening act last time. The setlist diverge a bit from there on out, but “Say It Isn’t So”, “Las Vegas Turnaround”, “She’s Gone”, and “Sara Smile” were all common denominators.
John Oates had shaved his trademark porn stache in favor of a pencil-thin goatee, but he still rocked the curls. Daryl Hall had aged quite a bit, but he hid the years behind long blonde hair and big sunglasses. They both looked much younger than 68 and 69 years old. Appearances aside, they sounded much like they did when they were rockin’ the airwaves through the 70’s and 80’s. The main set lasted about an hour and it was jam packed with classics spanning a career from 1973 – 1984. They knew better than to indulge themselves in newer material. The audience was there for the hits. The songs recalled a time long past, but the music didn’t sound dated at all. “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” might have gone on a little long, and the Charles DeChant-led sax jam session might have drifted a little too far into dentist-office jazz territory, but that just provided enough time to go grab one last beer before the first encore.
It sounds like the perfect set on paper, but there was something missing. In all honesty, it was quite boring. As much as I love those songs, they lacked life. The tempo never changed. Everything sounded fine, like waves lapping on the shore outside your window when you’re on vacation, but nothing about the performance moved me. There was more feeling coming out of my car speakers when I was playing the songs in the parking lot before the show. When the bongo player is the most exciting part of the set closer, there is a problem. I know I’m probably in the minority in feeling this way, but I was not alone. Hordes of people were flooding the stairs to exit the venue at 10:00pm. Sure, it’s possible they didn’t realize there would be two encores, or they weren’t prepared for the rain that fell the entire set, but they had to have realized there was more to come.
Fortunately (and unfortunately for those who left), there was a noticeable increase in energy during the encore. “Rich Girl” was a little flat, but it was hardly noticeable with everyone singing and dancing along. And they really cranked it up a few notches for “You Make My Dreams”. The second encore consisted of “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes” and they killed it. As I looked up at the crowd behind me, I saw people of all ages singing every word to those songs and I once again wondered if my splintered generation would ever produce music that timeless. I think it’s doubtful. Can you name a single song that came out this year that a multigenerational crowd will be singing along with 35 years from now?
That’s the draw of Hall & Oates. They don’t have the stage presence of a Patti Smith or Dolly Parton, and they don’t have the energy and stamina of a Brian Johnson or Bruce Springsteen, and their voices haven’t stood the test of time quite as well as a Stevie Wonder or Bonnie Raitt, but they have the songs. They are still alive and they are still healthy enough to tour and they have those timeless, infectious songs. The songs will live forever, but as 2016 has reminded us time and time again, the men who sing them will not.
I grew up listening to Hall & Oates because my dad owned the records. I love the songs because I was alive and listened to the radio in the 70’s and 80’s. I didn’t come of age to Hall & Oates though. Their songs hold no deep importance to me. So it’s ok if the concert was slightly boring for me. I’m sure it meant something completely different to that older couple who were making out earlier in the night. They probably fell in love with each other while listening to Daryl and John do their thing, so who am I to say it wasn’t a great show when it might have been to those people. That why I don’t review shows; I just share my personal experiences. The quality of a show isn’t measurable in any objective way. On this particular night, I enjoyed the openers more than the headliners, but overall I’m just glad that everyone who performed is still alive and healthy enough to do so. Hopefully that stays true for many years to come.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings:
Stranger to My Happiness
She Ain’t a Child No More
If You Call
It’s a Matter of Time
100 Days, 100 Nights
Get Up and Get Out
Slow Down, Love
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue:
Lose My Mind
The Craziest Things
It Ain’t No Use
One Night Only (The March)
Hall & Oates:
Out of Touch
Did It in a Minute
Say It Isn’t So
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)
Do What You Want, Be What You Are
I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)
You Make My Dreams
Kiss on My List