WHEN YOU ARE the most successful pop duo in history what's left to prove?
The platinum albums sit on the wall. The hits are played over and over again from radio to Muzak to VH-1. The fat royalty checks roll in.
But for Daryl Hall and John Oates there remains a mission.
Even though the band's last album "Ooh Yeah" was a flop and their new "Change of Season" has hardly garnered the airplay or sales of 1980's smashes such as "H20" or "Private Eyes," the brilliant pop combo forges ahead and refuses to look back.
"We judge our success by our creative success," Hall said last week. "Commercial success is something you can't depend on and you can't work toward. We do fine. We're all right and we've made a mark and we're continuing to do it. I'm at the point where I want to go beyond my next hit single. I'm not interested in living my life based around that."
So with a wonderful yet minor hit called "So Close" in tow, the band is supporting the new effort with a special acoustic tour, one of the first mainstream acts to try this "unplugged" format on a nationwide level.
Last night's performance at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in Washington -- featuring a seven-man band with drums, saxophone, cello, violin, acoustic guitars and an old Hammond organ -- was nothing if not a treat for the senses and a perfect way to convey the classics with spicy new arrangements.
"I think it's in the air that people want to hear songs again," Hall said. "It's kind of like an antidote. With rap and everything that is going on the obvious alternative to that is songs and melodies. The best way to hear that in its purest state is this. You show what you really have -- you play the chords and you sing it."
Although last night's crowd was tiny -- at about 1,000, only one-third the theater's capacity -- the show was hardly a disappointment.
Just when you got worn out on hearing standards like "Maneater," "Rich Girl" and "Say It Isn't So" in their original format, Hall and Oates would throw in a polka accordion solo or a church-like organ intro (both in "Every Time You Go Away") or a solo piano performance (Hall's "Wait For Me") to make you stop singing and start listening.
"When we came up with this idea we tried a lot of different things and they all seemed to work," Hall said. "We're doing "I Can't Go For That" and that certainly didn't seem like a song that would work."
Indeed, with very few exceptions, it worked marvelously. And rTC although the overall sound behind the pair wasn't particularly loud, when the bass and drums kicked in on the faster numbers like "You Make My Dreams" and "Maneater," it had a fullness and resonance that the duo never seemed to show during its elaborate arena productions such as 1985's "Big Bam Boom" tour.
Hall's golden tenor had its highs and lows -- he missed terribly on several falsetto parts -- but still he showed more than a flash of why he has the best voice in white rhythm and blues, dangerously leaping octaves in "One On One" and "She's Gone."
As always, Oates seemed to fade into the background more and more as the show progressed and Hall put down his guitar for a microphone stand.