At a certain point in a band’s long and winding career, there’s a tendency to stop critiquing the way they sound now and focus instead on the nostalgia they evoke through the experience of being at one of their concerts — that collective emotional and atmospheric journey that becomes as much a part of the performance as the performance itself. Not every band, and not every artist, of course, but with Tears for Fears, the synth-pop-duo-turned-mainstream-pop-rock hit-making machine founded in 1980s Bath, England, by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, the general expectation as they hit the Staples Center stage Thursday night was that they would sound pretty decent, perhaps, but not especially great.
But Tears for Fears, a band who plucked its name, as well as the title for its seminal anthem “Shout,” from Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy, defied any mediocre expectations during their 1½-hour set. The first half of a double-billing date with Darryl Hall and John Oates was rescheduled from July and wraps up a 29-city summer tour, rocking their unique marriage of 1960s psychedelia and infectiously moody quasi-Beatles’ inspired British new wave.
“Thank you for being the babies you were, thank you for being the children you were, thank you for being the teen that you were,” Smith told the crowd, comprising mostly graying middle-age folk, as well as the occasional sullen tween standing in line for slushies at the concession stand. (’70s heartthrob Leif Garret was seated in the row in front of me.) “And thank you for being the adults you have become.”
The band opened with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a song I distinctly recall echoing loudly throughout the house I lived in sophomore year at Cornell, with its Greek letters on the wall and bathroom mirrors streaked with zit cream. But, on Thursday night, Tears for Fears made “Everybody” fresh and alive again (if not politically relevant) along with a slew of its other monster hits, from “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” “Head Over Heels” and “Mad World,” another track that felt aptly au courant.
Smith and Orzabal kept their self-effacing humor intact throughout the night, particularly during a technological fumble — “that’s what you call a professional f—-up,” quipped Orzabal — but also proved themselves as seriously soulful auteurs, performing a sultry and dark cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” that, honest to God, was almost as spiritual and moving as the original.
Turning their own original tracks into contemporized tunes that resonated just as deeply with the younger generation on hand as the old timers, co-headliners Hall & Oates launched into reliable favorites like “Out of Touch,” “Say It isn’t So” and “One on One,” but did so with a stirring bluesy-jazz-funk twist thanks in large part to their stellar back-up musicians, including Shane Theriot (lead guitar, vocals); Brian Dunne (drums); Porter Carroll (percussion, vocals); Eliot Lewis (keyboard, vocals); Klyde Jones (bass, vocals); and Charlie “Mr. Casual” DeChant, whose wailing saxophone solo on “I Can’t Go for That” elevated the performance to near-apotheotic dimensions.
With such a vast catalog of crowd-pleasers, I sometimes wonder why Hall and Oates bothers with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” a song they covered on their 1980 album “Voices,” and one they revere as one of the “greatest rock and roll songs of all time,” but that, to me, forever feels perfectly adequate, if in a schmaltzy bar mitzvah band sort of way, regardless of who performs it. It’s a tune that turns a concert into karaoke. But it’s a tiny price to pay for everything else the Philadelphia-born duo gave at Staples. The highlight was a lush, gorgeously rendered rendition of the 1976 Grammy-winning “Sara Smile,” which featured Hall at a baby grand piano (bathed in stage lights) and an extended guitar solo that captured everything magic about the original era in which that song first rose to fame, as well as all that’s dazzling in American music today.