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Live review: The Bird & the Bee tackle Hall & Oates at the El Rey [Corrected]

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The Bird and the Bee, a jazzy local synth-pop duo, has a fantastic single (with an unprintable title) imploring a hesitant beau to be a real boyfriend already. It’s a sassy chastening of noncommittal dudes. But when vocalist Inara George sings it while very clearly pregnant, as she did at the sold-out El Rey Theatre on Friday, the tune has an even blacker sense of humor.

“This song has more meaning when I’m like this,” George said, pointing to her stomach to room-wide chuckling. Her husband, the director Jake Kasdan, may have protested that he made it official a long time ago. But it was one of many arched-eyebrow moments in a set of smart, fluffy pop made by two talents not taking themselves at all too seriously.

Case in point: Later this month, the band (its core members are George and producer Greg Kurstin) will release “Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates,” a deliciously titled cover album of tunes from the duo that launched a thousand mustache and “yacht-rock” jokes. But for the Bird and the Bee, the line between true love and having a lark is malleable. 

The pair's El Rey set was heavy on Hall & Oates numbers, and though indie rock has long since resuscitated that band’s reputation as secret songwriting savants, George and Kurstin revealed them as crack arrangers as well. Kurstin’s an effortlessly gifted keyboardist, and alongside a sprawling backing band (featuring opener Juliette Commagere, very able with guitar and vocal duties), the group dug deep into hits such as “Kiss on My List”  in ways that snide hipster peers couldn’t replicate. 

[For the record: An earlier version of this post said the Bird and the Bee's original song "Heard It on the Radio" was a hit by Hall & Oates. "Heard It on the Radio" was the one original song in the album "Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates."]

You can’t cover a song so precisely as a mere joke, and the band clearly adores source material like the unimpeachable “Sara Smile.” But the Bird and the Bee's Hall & Oates covers did underscore our weird new world of pop contrarianism among the cool kids, where there’s a kind of brinkmanship to adoring once-maligned '80s soft rock. (Will “Interpreting the Masters: Volume 2” feature Wings and Michael McDonald?)

George clearly relished the cheekiness of the whole affair, occasionally throwing down tawdry dance moves followed by a faux-shocked wink. Her smoky alto remains one of L.A.’s great voices, one of few capable of being dryly funny and truly moving in the same song. The band’s originals did both, recalling an adolescent sexuality awakened by the flaxen mane of David Lee Roth on the deadpan “Diamond Dave,” and then earnestly surrendering to a new adult crush on “My Love.”

Of course, this being Los Angeles, John Oates personally cemented the meta-ness of the night with a guest lead-guitar turn on “Maneater.” ”I really need a dose of feel good tonight,” he said as he took the stage. Whatever his reason for needing that, he couldn’t have asked for a more articulate love letter than the one the Bird and the Bee just gave him.

-- August Brown

Photo: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (6)

just a check. unless i'm missing a modifier somewhere, you mention 'heard it on the radio' as a hall and oates hit. pretty sure that's the only original 'bird and the bee' song on the new album. other than that, spot on. it *was a great show.

John Oates was almost certainly referring to the fatal heart attack suffered last week by musician Tom "T-Bone" Wolk, who had played with Hall & Oates since the 198o's, and whose passing was noted in the Los Angeles Times on March 1st.

The reason John needed a dose of feel good was due to the death earlier in the week of T-Bone Wolk, Hall & Oates bassist and musical director of over 30 years.

John Oates was almost certainly referring to the fatal heart attack suffered last week by musician Tom "T-Bone" Wolk, who had played with Hall and Oates since the 1980's, and whose passing was noted in the Los Angeles Times on March 1st.

The reason for John Oates's comment deserves more than a shrug and a "whatever" - given that Hall & Oates collaborator, bassist and friend T-Bone Wolk had died of a heart attack only days before this show.

I think a good question for August Brown and other members of the media is "why isn't Hall & Oates in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame?" The band is so influential, and has penned and recorded so many wonderful songs, they don't get in while some artists have a single hit (Percy Sledge) and get in. Hall & Oates are great, and so are the Bird and the Bee's recorded tribute to the duo.


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