John Oates says he likes performing in intimate venues, and it's hard to imagine a more intimate opening to a show than the beginning of his set Friday night at Fort Worth's new Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge.
As a crowd small enough that most could lean on the stage milled about, Oates came out 15 minutes before his band, wielding an acoustic guitar and playing four songs, including some new ones (Promise Ain't Enough and American Man), as well as a soulful reinterpretation of 1980's How Does it Feel to be Back, one of the few Hall & Oates hits on which Oates sang lead.
The crowd grew as Oates was joined by his band, but it remained small -- it's easy to think of a half-dozen Fort Worth bands that could deservedly bring a larger audience to the Music Hall part of the Live Oak. True, it's been a long time since Hall & Oates' 1970s/'80s heyday, and even Oates will tell you that Daryl Hall is the bigger star in the duo (which will perform together in September in Allen), but it was hard to escape the feeling that Oates is one of the more underappreciated figures in pop music.
Those who were at the show, however, seemed to appreciate Oates very well. Maybe a few wanted to hear more Hall & Oates songs, but most appeared to be in sync with what the singer is about now: Honoring the musicians who influenced him with covers of Elvis (a bluesy All Shook Up), Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions (a sing-along It's All Right), songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (a straightforward version of the Coasters' Searchin') and others.
The Hall & Oates songs were there, too -- some of them well-known, such as She's Gone, Maneater and You Make My Dreams Come True, the latter two done in versions true to the originals except that it was Oates, not Hall, singing lead; some of them going deep, including early '70s album cuts such as Las Vegas Turnaround and Camellia.
Oates may have been overshadowed by Daryl Hall, but he has a rich voice of his own, and he sang with smooth verve and performed with good humor, although he seemed at the edge of his good-naturedness when he had to shush some concertgoers who were chattering during one of his many anecdotes. His band -- drummer John Michel, bassist Michael Mercier, keyboard player Peter Adams and guitarist Mark Newman -- provided tight support, with Newman and Oates, who is an adept guitarist himself, providing many of the non-singing highlights.
The turnout may have been low, but Oates seemed to enjoy that and the way it allowed him to banter with the crowd. And maybe if the crowd were larger, there wouldn't have been the sense that this was something special and that people who weren't there didn't know what they were missing.
Oates' show was the first of three kickoff-weekend concerts at the Live Oak, which also features an indoor bar, a ground-floor patio and a rooftop bar with views of the Fort Worth skyline and of the western sky. Iris DeMent performs Saturday night, and Hot Club of Cowtown performs Sunday. Both shows are at 8 p.m. at the Live Oak, 1311 Lipscomb St. just south of Magnolia Avenue.