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

March 6, 2010 |  2:07 pm

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