Some bands seem obliged to jam at Jazz Fest, even if jamming isn’t what they do best. That was partly the case in Hall & Oates’ set, with stretched out versions of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Sara Smile” that collectively filled nearly one-third of a 90-minute show. (Both featured saxophonist Charlie DeChant, the senior member of their band and the one who’s been there since hitmaking days).
The jams were largely beside the point, and the point with H&O is great four-minute pop/soul singeles. Fortunately the set began and ended with a brace of those, with a four-song encore (“Rich Girl,” “You Make My Dreams”, “Private Eyes” and “Kiss On My List”) that was a jukebox in itself. Though H&O are tied to the past as hitmakers (1985’s “Method of Modern Love” was the newest song played), Daryl Hall remains a charismatic performer—and make no mistake, it’s 95 percent Hall’s show, with Oates singing but two leads. But even if they cut off in the 80s, their catalogue is full of neglected gems: Their Fest set had one minor hit (“How Does It Feel to be Back”) and one deep cut (“Las Vegas Turnaround”) and there’s plenty more where those came from.
Pete Fountain’s set amounted to a celebration of the man, who’s seen some recent health problems and had to miss a scheduled French Quarter Fest appearance. Seated in a red walker, he was joined onstage by family members including his granddaughter who played washboard; and his great-granddaughter who serenaded him with “You Are My Sunshine.” The sadder part is that Fountain was unable to do much playing: He held his clarinet throughout but was mainly there as guest of honor, smiling broadly and posing for photos for the fans upfront. Longtime protégé Tim Laughlin handled most of the clarinet lines; Fountain added a few grace notes here and there. So his fans didn’t get to hear his trademark version of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” but they did get to be part of a well-deserved salute.
The one pitfall you might expect from a solo Aaron Neville set—that it would be wall to wall ballads—wasn’t really the case at his Gentilly Stage closing set: Neville made smart choices from his solo and brothers catalogue, picking upbeat tunes (“Fever,” Allen Toussaint’s “Hercules” – featuring young Jason Neville – and his own “Angola Bound”) to scatter through the set, and saving the big ballads (not the commercial ones, but sturdy numbers like Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”) for the peak moments. Neville isn’t reinventing himself at this late date: The songs (including the odd “Mickey Mouse” finale) were all ones that he’s sung for many years, and the band included familiar faces Charles Neville (who got more sax solos than he usually does with the Brothers) and guitarist Eric Struthers. There were times (especially during the doo-wop material) when you wished the band was better at rocking out, but Neville’s voice was perfectly angelic, without the occasional raspiness that’s shown up in recent years.