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Oates on his own

Stewart Oksenhorn

When John Oates performed his December 2002 concert at the Wheeler Opera House, he put almost no thought into documenting the show. But over the past several months, the Woody Creek singer has put an enormous amount of time and effort into turning that concert into the new DVD, John Oates: Live at the Historic Wheeler Opera House.The Wheeler gig essentially represented a coming out as a solo artist for Oates, and taping the event was quite literally the last thing on his mind. Oates was preoccupied with such details as rehearsing the band, fine-tuning the songs, and even going over lighting and staging for his first real headlining gig without his partner of three-plus decades, Daryl Hall. Moreover, it was Christmastime and he was busy celebrating with his family, wife Aimee and their young son, Tanner.So it wasnt until two days before the concert that Oates realized he hadnt arranged to even record one of the more significant events of his professional life. Some 48 hours before show time, he called local videographer Chris Tribble, with whom he had worked some years earlier on a celebrity skiing TV segment. Tribble was ready to roll, and suggested bringing three or four cameras. But Oates, with his hands full and time tight, told Tribble to make it a simple one-camera shoot. After all, there were no plans to have anyone see the results apart from Oates himself and those close to him.The concert was a success, as Oates received a warm reception for his neighborly stage presence, a sampling of Hall & Oates classics, and the songs from his then-new CD, Phunk Shui, his solo debut. But when Oates watched the concert video a few days later, he regretted not having put more thought into the recording. The tape was stashed away.A year later, though, he returned to the video. This time, he looked at what had been captured from a new perspective.I realized how seamlessly [Chris] moved the camera from player to player and managed to get the feel of a band, said Oates, whose group was composed of members of the now-defunct local group Little Blue. He gave it a dynamic look considering it was just one camera.In particular, Oates found that the simplicity of the one-camera shoot complemented the relatively intimate concert.I thought there was something really refreshing about the look, he said. It was perfectly suitable for the type of show it was personable, and lots of stories. It was totally dumb luck. But it was one of those things where a potential negative turned out to be a positive.The video, however, was just half of the battle to be won before the Wheeler show could be spun into a product. The audio, recorded in mono on Tribbles camera, was, as Oates put it, sooo bad. The keyboards were too loud, the guitars barely audible. But his satisfaction with the video persuaded him to see if anything could be done to make the sound acceptable. He huddled first with keyboardist Jed Lieber, then went to a friend at Harman, a sound and electronics conglomerate. Harman, it turned out, had just finished its new Lexicon unit, a cutting-edge piece of technology that could even transform a mono recording into 5.1 Surround Sound, the standard for DVD audio. Oates also used a device that could re-create the aural ambiance of a small theater such as the Wheeler.With amazing studio technology and a lot of effort, we put out something that met my standards. Which are pretty high, he said. We managed to make an acceptable sounding mix. This took some serious work.The result of that effort is Live at the Historic Wheeler Opera House. The DVD opens with the concert (with perfectly acceptable sound quality). The DVD features three previously unreleased music videos: It Girl, a sexy fantasy starring a then less-ubiquitous Paris Hilton, and a faux performance on the roof of Liebers L.A. apartment, both directed by UCLA film student Annelize Bester for a school project; and Little Angel, a family video postcard. Also on the DVD are The Recording of Phunk Shui, a documentary of the making of the CD; and The Telemark, footage of Oates engaging in one of his other great passions, telemark skiing. The package also includes a CD, Live at Highland Bowl, the origin of which Oates wont reveal (other than to confirm it was not, in fact, recorded at Highland Bowl).The other side of OatesFor more than 30 years, Oates has been known as the somewhat less visible half of Hall & Oates. And in that pop duo, personalities, offstage lives and the behind-the-scenes realities of the hit-making machine were purposely obscured.Weve never let people see the inner working of the whole franchise, said Oates, who continues to tour frequently as part of Hall & Oates and has a Hall & Oates CD set for release in the fall. We never let our personal lives be known.And until recently, Oates had not developed a professional life outside of Hall & Oates. Some three years ago, he started collaborating with the members of Little Blue. Inspired by having a local group that could provide him with adequate backup, Oates played some benefit gigs with Little Blue; in 2002, he released Phunk Shui and followed with a series of Colorado gigs. Since then, he has played a handful of private and corporate shows and a concert at the Roxy in Los Angeles.Now with the release of Live at the Historic Wheeler Opera House, Oates is giving fans a broader view of himself, and the bigger picture behind Hall & Oates. The concert portion of the DVD is filled with personal references and stories about himself and the duo. Particularly good is the anecdote from a Madison Square Garden fund-raiser that featured both the polished Hall & Oates and the famously loose Grateful Dead. When Oates happened across Jerry Garcia before the concert and asked him what the Dead were planning to play, Garcia shot back: This is the Grateful Dead, not the f—ing Army.On the other end of the spectrum is the video for Little Angel, with clips of the Oates family set to the cuddly song.Its personal. Totally personal. And I dont mean its an ego trip, said Oates of the DVD. Because of my role in Hall & Oates, a lot of people dont know me as an individual. This allows me to set myself apart from my role in the duo, and also tell a little about my lifestyle and my family.One song that didnt make it to the DVD, because the sound was unsalvageable, was Maneater, Hall & Oates monster hit. In concert, Oates was almost apologetic in performing the dated tune, which he acknowledged, screams 80s. But he thought it would provide some insight into the slick pop factory, especially playing a reworked version of the tune that was closer to his original idea.It was such a big record, everyone knows it, said Oates. But nobody knows where it came from: Was it just pop pap, meant to be a hit record? No. People should know it was a reggae record which morphed into a Motown record and it came from me going to New York City clubs, Studio 54, and the kinds of women there. It was the Zeitgeist. I wanted people to know thats what its about. The whole reason is to give people a glimpse behind the scenes, the context behind the songs.Hall & Oates is due to release an album in the fall, tentatively titled Our Kind of Soul, of classic 60s and 70s soul songs Standing in the Shadows of Love, What You See Is What you Get and Smokey Robinsons Fading Away, the B-side of the Temptations Get Ready done in Hall & Oates style. Beyond that, Oates is contemplating the next piece in his solo career.It would have to come together the way Phunk Shui came together because its fun, not because I need to get something out there, he said. John Oates: Live at the Historic Wheeler Opera House is available at the Great Divide Music Store and Zl Music Cafe.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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