Daryl Hall and Elvis Costello Make Double-Feature Dreams Come True at the Greek: Concert Review

Daryl Hall and Elvis Costello, take a seat.

That might be a thing to shout out as a request the next time these two veteran singers co-headline a tour together, rather than calling out for “Maneater” or “Pump It Up.” It’s not that they aren’t standup guys, or that there is anything about their energy levels that suggests they need to take a load off. It’s just that, when Hall and Costello played L.A.’s Greek Theater on Tuesday night, each of their sets really took off or peaked when they sat down for a spell. It was strictly by coincidence, mind you, that they mutually proved that benching oneself can be good for a performance..

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In the case of Hall, who is closing out these co-headliner shows, the transformative moment came when he put down his electric guitar after the first six songs and settled in at the piano. This move marked the beginning of the “Philly soul” portion of the evening… rather obviously signalled when he began this second half by singing “I’m in a Philly Mood.” The rest of us quickly got in that mood, too, and stayed there, as Hall laid off the earlier bangers and got balladically vibey with sure-fire slow-burn tunes like “Sara Smile.”

In Costello’s case, his turn at the piano was a short one, unlike Hall’s extended foray at the keys. Normally, EC has Steve Nieve to meet all his keyboard needs. But, eight songs in, he took to the ebony-and-ivories himself to sing and play “A Face in the Crowd,” the title song of a long-in-the-works stage musical, based on the same Budd Schulberg novel that was the basis for the classic 1957 Elia Kazan movie. Costello has often played this number in concert in recent years, but with a mounting of the musical finally set to take place in London this fall, maybe there’s a reason to sing it with some extra urgency. It felt like his voice had been somewhat in warmup mode before then, but Costello belted this one with a clarion quality that made it sound as if he passionately believed the false promises in the lyrics.

From there, it was off to the races for Costello, if not necessarily immediately back to a standing position, as he moved over to a different chair to pick up a guitar and deliver an anxiously laid-back cover of Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy.” In Costello’s stage zig-zagging, this was followed by a move to center stage, instrument-less, to deliver the arguably most powerful of all his Burt Bacharach co-writes, “I Still Have That Other Girl,” accompanied elegantly by Nieve. Soon enough it was back to what we would know and love as rock ‘n’ roll, with an invigoration that felt refueled by the detours just taken.

Having established that Hall and Costello both have a way with a mid-set wail, what kind of tour partners do they make?

Good ones, from a booking perspective. A Venn diagram would probably show that there aren’t that many music fans that feel equally passionate about both performers, vastly different as the appeal of each is. But most devotees of each artist probably have some kind of affection for, and not much aversion to, the catalogs of the singer that is second fiddle in their minds… so this is effectively nearly doubling up the size of the potential audience without risking very many noticeable late arrivals or early walkouts. So, compliments to the chef, whoever that might be, who thought there’d be a certain complementarity that would work here.

This is not like the previous co-headlining tour Hall did with Todd Rundgren last year, where the latter performer joined him for a significant part of the show after doing the opening set. Nor is it like the Costello/Nick Lowe joint tour of last year, where no duets were guaranteed but you stood about a one-in-five chance of having Lowe stick around long enough to join Elvis for “Peace, Love and Understanding” or “Alison.” The one obvious overlap these two have had in the past was Hall singing the harmony vocal on Costello’s 1984 hit “The Only Flame in Town,” a chemistry one or both of them apparently have zero interest in recreating on the road.

Costello has been adding “The Only Flame in Town” to his set more and more in these shows, though, as a soloist, and it was fortunate for the Greek audience that Tuesday was one of those nights where he saw fit to include it. The original recording from the ‘80s sounds dated and cloying now (truth be told, it was a little dated and cloying the day it came out). But at the heart of it is a brilliant composition that Costello has revived from time to time in concert as a slow, breathy ballad, getting more clearly in touch with the idea that, yep, true to its ironic title, it is a torch song. It’s just as well that he didn’t ask Hall to come out and find his way between those lyrical flares; for this purpose, it’s fine that Costello is the only fireman in town.

Just before launching into “Only Flame,” Costello acknowledged the 82nd birthday of another one-time partner, Paul McCartney, by tagging a bit of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” onto the beginning of the tune, without any notice or fanfare. (Fans might have hoped for a full reading of “Veronica” or one of his and McCartney’s other ‘80s co-writes, but “Yesterday” works.) Of course, anyone who’s been to more than a couple Costello shows knows he long preceded Kanye as the true king of interpolations. And so, besides adding a bit of Macca, Costello remained in top call-out form by augmenting “You Little Fool” with Gary Puckett’s “Young Girl,” “Alison” with the Supremes and Temptations’ “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” and the teen-pregnancy anthem “Unwanted Number” with still more Supremes, in the form of “Love Child.” The cleverest segue came during “Clubland,” when Nieve’s melodica solo made for a natural transition to a bit of the Specials’ “Ghost Town,” that instrument being a (plus a wee bit of “Insensatez”).

For longtime fans who are used to certain hits coming at certain places, Costello is messing with heads a little by putting “Pump It Up” and “Watching the Detectives” right at the top of the show (a lot of folks were probably hearing Davey Faragher’s opening bass riff out in the parking lot). And by moving up “Peace, Love and Understanding” from its traditional finale spot, the shows now end on a balladic note — albeit still a give-the-people-what-they-want note — with “Allison.” Whether or not Costello always maintained the same affection for that last song that everybody else does, he seems to love it a lot more now that he has Charlie Sexton as an auxillary member of the Imposters, since Sexton is able to play the guitar part the intricate way it was performed on the original record. “Allison” might hit differently if he were closing out the night with it, instead of just leading into intermission, but it feels just right as a set-closer on this tour… leaving the audience feeling at intermission like the crowd with the most cake.

Costello gets to go to a lot of extremes in his repertoire on any given night, whether he’s doing a two-and-a-half-hour show on his own or playing for a mere hour-and-20 as a leadup artist here. Hall doesn’t have nearly that range in his catalog — no punky “No Actions” or Bacharach soliloquies here — but he does hit on enough variations of tone and style to make the set feel like it has some dynamics, before he satisfyingly settles into pure soul-man mode. At the Greek, he also eschewed hitting all the Hall and Oates greatest hits — leaving out, for instance, “Rich Girl” — in order to hit upon a few deep cuts and solo tracks. His set struck a finely tuned balance between delivering what most of the audience came for and offering a few surprises for his most faithful fans.

I’d like to say that Hall performed like a man unbound, now that he has declared that is done with Daryl Hall & John Oates as a duo once and for all. But if you follow his recent interviews, Hall kind of makes it sound like he always considered himself essentially a solo artist… if one who was duty-bound to make room for a sidekick to keep the branding alive. In any case, officially being solo once and for all doesn’t mean he’s about to get indulgent and start doing stuff off his ancient cult-favorite Robert Fripp collaboration (though some of us would have jumped up and down if he did). Even with his new solo album, “D” (which he helpfully held up a vinyl copy of), Hall is dedicated to making his current sound part of the H&O continuum.

The rarer cuts in the set included two from 1986’s “Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine” and one from 1993’s “Soul Alone” (that one being the aforementioned statement-of-purpose song “I’m in a Philly Mood”) and one H&O non-hit, 1977’s worth-reviving “Foolish Pride.” Even with this nice a selection of pinch-hitter tracks, the only song to have been minted within the last 30 years was the first encore, “Can’t Say No to You,” a pick from the new album that basically amounts to “yes, can do” following directly in the wake of “I Can’t Go for That.”

No one on hand was about to argue with the vintage nature of 11 out of 12 tunes. There was no reason to when Hall has assembled a band that locks so neatly into grooves that turn out to have a lot more to them live than you necessarily remember coming from the radio back in the day. There’s a key link to the past here, besides Hall’s own indelible voice — it’s sax player Charles DeChant, still turning up in the same spots for solos that he did on the recordings of “Maneater” and “I Can’t Go for That.” He turned from sax man to flautist for the extended opening to “Sara Smile,” a long instrumental R&B fanfare so warm and inviting that you wished the song would never stop getting started.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters setlist at the Greek:

Pump It Up

Watching the Detectives

No Flag

The Only Flame in Town (incl. Yesterday)

Unwanted Number (incl. Love Child)

Wonder Woman

Everyday I Write the Book

A Face in the Crowd

Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy

I Still Have That Other Girl

Clubland (inclu. Ghost Town, Insensatiz)

You Little Fool (incl. Young Girl)

No Action

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea

Alison (incl. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me)

Daryl Hall setlist at the Greek:



It’s Uncanny

Foolish Pride

Did It in a Minute

Out of Touch

I’m in a Philly Mood

Everytime You Go Away

Sara Smile

I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)

Can’t Say No to You

You Make My Dreams

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