Some time in 2007, Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame decided that, instead of the endless touring longtime rock and country musicians seem to do late in their careers, why not bring the music home and put it up on the web or, better, television where more people can see it with only the guests having to travel? Hall has a reconstructed 18-century colonial house in Upstate New York, near where he, partner John Oates, and most of their supporting musicians are based. The only travel would be done by the guests, who would show up, jam, and “have some food, drink some wine.” The result was an hour-long webcast-turned-TV-show Live from Daryl’s House.
Once upon a time, I knew everything there was to know about music and was constantly up on the latest bands. If I didn’t know them, so much the better. I’d get to know them soon enough. That lasted through the nineties, which, to me, was the last great decade for original music with grunge, post-grunge, Brit pop, post-punk, matured heavy metal, and Lillith Fair. It was like the early 1970’s all over again.
Then came American Idol. That pretty much shut down music for me. Is Marillion doing another album? Is there a Rolling Stones album I don’t have yet? Why hasn’t Kurt Cobain’s corpse been reanimated? Chop chop. I want more Nirvana! The Foos aren’t making albums fast enough!
This just all served to make the 2000’s a bigger suckfest than I already thought they were. And then my friend Brian Thornton turned me onto Live From Daryl’s House. Even some of those singers and bands I didn’t like for being too poppy sounded great just jamming in the great room of Daryl’s restored colonial home. The show is Hall with various session musicians from his solo work and Hall & Oates. John Oates does not appear, but he is frequently mentioned. Anyone can show up, from obscure prog rockers Minus the Bear to sexy alternative rocker Grace Potter to seasoned veterans like Joe Walsh and Todd Rundgren (who brought the show to his home in Hawaii. You haven’t lived until you watch a bunch of guys on acoustic guitars play “Bang the Drum” while a hula dancer struts her stuff.) Hall even had his idol, Smokey Robinson, appear. By the way, an elderly Smokey still sounds better without autotune and no studio trickery than the Black Eyed Peas on a good day.
There is a cooking segment as Hall will have a local chef come in to demonstrate what’s for dinner that day. Sometimes, as in the case of the Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik, the guest musician(s) will do the cooking. Late in the show, the musicians all sit around a big table with that day’s dish to swap war stories from the studio and the road.
Usually, the show has about four to six songs, split between Hall’s backlist and the guest’s. Often younger musicians will want to sing some of Hall’s classic hits. For instance, the female lead singer for Fitz and the Tantrums would not be denied her chance to sing “Sara Smile,” while Minus the Bear picked an obscure song from Hall’s Sacred Songs that originally featured King Crimson’s Robert Fripp at his most bizarre. But it’s also a chance for Hall to sing on new material. Grace Potter, for instance, was excited to hear Hall’s harmonies on her hit “Paris (Ooh La La).”
One thing that comes up time and time again during the dinner discussion near the end of the show is the way the music sounds when they play. Many of the musicians note that they love the sound of the room at Hall’s home and marvel at how, aside from wiring it up for electricity, it is closer to the original house than many restored homes. The other noteworthy subject is how imperfect the music sounds. A note goes somewhere unplanned. The rhythms are frequently improvised. There’s just enough rehearsal to learn the songs they play. This is a philosophy that made Keith Richards a personal hero to me, and it’s one Hall is very big on: Play the room, and don’t over-polish the music.
As such, I’ve discovered a lot of new musicians and developed respect for some I didn’t care for previously. I became a fan of Grace Potter and of Nick Waterhouse (“Say I Wanna Know”) as a result. And I fell in love with Philadelphia singer Nikki Jean after hearing her singing Hall & Oates “One on One.”
This is how music is supposed to be written, played, and recorded: On real instruments, with the room as much a part of the sound as the players, and with all its imperfections and unexpected turns left intact.