Two pairs of '80s pop titans from the annals of the FM dial — blue-eyed soul songwriters Daryl Hall and John Oates (pictured above), alongside anthemic British pop rockers Tears for Fears — made a rare co-headlining appearance in downtown Toronto on Monday night (June 19) after years relegated to casinos outside the city. With neither band having new records to promote, it was an evening filled with solid gold and platinum hits.
After a short but sweet solo set from self-described "hippie with soul" Allen Stone, the first of the night's headliners, Tears for Fears, walked out onstage to Lorde's downtempo and moody reinterpretation of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Not to be outdone by the rising pop star, the band immediately jumped into the hit, somehow capturing the same polish and precision of the original single live over 30 years later.
Similarly, co-songwriters/frontmen Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith sounded like they hadn't aged a bit as they delivered near-perfect renditions of the sweeping and symphonic "Secret World," stadium-ready "Sowing the Seeds of Love" and lounge-y "Advice for the Young at Heart," and showed their pop roots with the proggy (and possibly a little silly, depending on the listener) "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending."
Taking a moment to address the Toronto crowd and acknowledge the city's long relationship with the band, including a four-night residency recorded at Massey Hall at the height of their career, as well as the band's subsequent video for hit "Head Over Heels" (filmed at the city's Emmanuel College Library), the band played a selection of tracks from their breakout darkwave debut, The Hurting ("Change," "Mad World," "Memories Fade" and — after their so-wrong-it's-right low-key cover of Radiohead's "Creep" — "Pale Shelter") and received some of the best reception of the night.
After the one-two punch of underrated mid-career masterpiece "Break it Down Again" and the aforementioned Songs From the Big Chair-standout "Head Over Heels," the band took a short break before returning to the stage with "Shout." Orzabal botched the classic single early, forgetting the words to the first verse, but turned things around long before the song's soaring guitar solo, fully redeeming himself.
On the surface, Tears for Fears and Hall & Oates may seem pretty similar, what with both pop rock bands having two main songwriters and an endless array of hits that continue to fill everything from karaoke catalogues to busted car stereos. But look a little deeper at their live bands, and some striking differences shine through.
Both groups are tight, but after years on the road and almost a decade together before their first major hit, Hall & Oates — and the six-piece backing band they brought to the Air Canada Centre — are able to shake things up with just a subtle look from the bandleaders or a flick of their wrists.
While staples like "Family Man," "Out of Touch" and "Maneater" sounded spectacular early on during the band's second Toronto show in a little over a year (especially with their extended intros and beefed-up sound on stage), it was their more meandering, exploratory and deeply groovy tracks that proved the most interesting, like "She's Gone" (the 1973 hit that Hall described on stage as having first taken them out of Philadelphia) and Oates' freewheeling odyssey "Is it a Star?" — especially after years of suffering through much of their late-career catalogue's poor production.
The good times kept rolling with a muscular and moving "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" that eschewed the original's drowned out drum machine in favour of robust percussion, as well as scintillating sax solos that helped stretch the song to twice its original runtime. But it was the precise four-song encore consisting of "Rich Girl," "Kiss on My List," "Private Eyes" and "You Make My Dreams" that got almost the entire the Air Canada Centre to their feet and chanting along to every word.
Both bands played sets sandwiched by their biggest singles, but if there was a major takeaway from this most radio-friendly evening of pop performances, it was that greatest hits compilation may be good and all, but you don't reach the top — live or on the charts — without being consistent on stage, too.
Pre-order Tears for Fears' latest greatest hits collection here.