John Oates Tells Stories Behind the Songs at Landmark

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He may be lacking a mustache, but he’s not lacking in soul.

There are a few things that you may not know about John Oates that you should.

John Oates and Band1. He has not totally eschewed the facial hair that defined him in the 1980s and 1990s. He was sporting a “soul patch” at his concert at Landmark on Main Street on Oct. 28.

2. Oates is not simply a creator of beautifully written pop music – he actually has the heart and soul of a bluesman.

Oates’ show began with a performance from a Philadelphia musician with the one-word moniker of Mutlu. Taking the stage with just an acoustic guitar, Mutlu launched into a string of surprisingly well-written songs. The guy has an extraordinary voice – very very smooth, with a wide range, especially strong on the higher end. Mutlu’s sound reminded me a bit of Jason Mraz.

A standout was the song “Hello Morning,” a slightly plaintive, bluesy number. Towards the end of the set, he invited the roadie, Joe Interland, onstage to play with him, and they did a piece as a tribute to the late T-Bone Wolk, bass player and musical director for Hall & Oates, who passed away early this year. Mutlu closed with Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.”

The show was billed as “John Oates – The Stories Behind the Songs,” and Oates began that way, starting with “Lady Rain,” a song written in the late 1960s, and released as part of Hall & Oates’ 1973 “Abandoned Luncheonette” album. He went on to do several more early Hall & Oates’ songs, including an audience favorite – “Sara Smile,” the song Oates wrote with Hall about Hall’s former girlfriend.

Onstage, Oates comes across as humble and at ease, effortlessly playing his guitar, and clearly enjoying the rapport with both the audience and his band members.

A few words about the band members – Oates has put together a really talented bunch of musicians for this tour. Band members included bass player Michael Jude, drummer (and Long Island native) John Michel, and guitarist Pete Huttlinger. Huttlinger is quite a whiz, as proven by his solo take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Huttlinger managed to play all parts of the song, single-handedly, on his guitar (including the vocal line, horn, bass, etc.) And did I mention that he also played the mandolin?

There was one funny, and unrehearsed, moment when the band launched into a song only to stop 10 seconds in. It turned out that the drummer was playing a different song than the rest of the band. He apparently was eager to get to “Out of Touch.” It became clear why, when they performed it a few songs later. Oates did such a high-energy version of the song that I swore I was back in the 1980s for a moment. (Then I checked my hair style, and realized I wasn’t.)

Before each song, Oates gave a little explanation about its origin or inspiration. Other classic Hall & Oates songs performed that evening included “Maneater,” and “I Can’t Go for That.” Over the course of the evening, Oates invited Mutlu (the opening act) to come out and join him on a song, and later in the performance he brought out a phenomenal sax player – and another local Long Islander – Richie Canata. Canata’s delicious sax work really added to the Hall & Oates tune, “She’s Gone.”

The second half of the show included a number of blues-based songs from Oates’ upcoming release, “Mississippi Mile,” due out next April. The audience was equally enthusiastic about these songs as they were about the Hall & Oates favorites.

Oates spoke of his time in Nashville working on this album, which includes covers of some heavy-duty blues songs by Mississippi John Hurt and Curtis Mayfield. Particularly impressive was Oates’ impassioned rendition of Percy Mayfield’s “Send me Somebody to Love.” Another really strong song was “Ghost Town” from the album “Thousand Miles of Life.” According to Oates, the song was inspired by a visit to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The song highlighted his soulful and emotional singing.

Oates and band took the stage for an encore after several minutes of frenzied screaming and clapping by enthusiastic fans. They closed with two great numbers: Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” and a lesser-known Chuck Berry song, “Let it Rock,” that left the audience wanting more.

When asked how he enjoyed performing at Landmark, Oates replied, “It’s a great theater. I love the intimacy of it. I am very pleased that the new songs were as well received as the Hall & Oates classics.”

Hopefully, Oates will be back this way again in support of his new album next year.

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