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Review: Tears for Fears, Hall and Oates in Miami

In 1985, the British new wave band Tears for Fears released “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” a warning bell of a pop song whose frowning guitar chords, descending keyboards and distressed vocals betrayed the age of not just the band’s 23-year-old songwriters, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, but also the decade of global anxiety that was still unfolding. More than three decades later, the song still carries that air of inevitability, so it was little surprise when Tears for Fears chose it to open their performance Wednesday night at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, where the band shared headlining status with fellow ’80s hitmakers Daryl Hall and John Oates.

Except the first voice the audience heard singing the song’s alarming opening lines, “Welcome to your life / There’s no turning back,” belonged not to Smith, but to Lorde, the 20-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter whose own career is beginning at yet another time in which total catastrophe and collapse threaten to be no more than one red-phone call away. Lorde’s recording of “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” appears on the soundtrack to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and if Tears for Fears’ entering the stage as a much younger pop star sang their biggest hit initially smacked of self-congratulation, the band proceeded to unbuckle that notion for the next hour and 15 minutes.

While the billing of Tears for Fears and Hall and Oates creaks with nostalgia, the former on Wednesday night seemed interested in looking back only as a means to understand the present. Tears for Fears’ songs have always grieved for the unfulfilled promise of today as much as, if not more than, they have for the irretrievable past, and the result is music that has become more urgent with age. Joined onstage by the fellow British singer-songwriter Carina Round on backing vocals, her gothic dress and feral grin bringing much to the production’s vampire-nightclub atmosphere, and supported by a simpatico drummer, bassist and keyboardist, Orzabal and Smith presented a striking, fraternal-twin composite of lives still being lived, of artists still making art.

Fresh from a two-week break in a tour that began May 4, the singers remarked on visiting Miami from England only to find it seized by rain. Smith, wearing a military buzzcut, black T-shirt and trim physique, regretted not being able to get in his daily run. Orzabal, his dark cocker-spaniel hair brushing his shoulders, looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck, smiling his way through the McCartney-esque “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending,” making a strong case for a wide reappraisal of the well-intentioned but dippy protest song “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” and leading an arresting cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” The band delivered that last song with the right amount of menace and self-pity, and it landed less as an homage than as an acknowledgment of the influence the two bands have had on each other.

Tears for Fears ended their set with two songs from the breakout 1985 album “Songs From the Big Chair”: “Head Over Heels,” a post-apocalyptic love song here swinging with a looser, less despondent mood, and “Shout,” a splenetic anthem of survival in “violent times” that sounded as if it could have been written today, its acute sense of unease leaving the audience little choice but to recognize themselves in it. “You shouldn’t have to shout for joy,” Orzabal sang, glorying in the knowledge that we will do so, anyway.

The mirror that Daryl Hall and John Oates held up a short while later provided a less flattering and far more cynical image. Where Orzabal and Smith appeared awake to their history, Hall and Oates seemed mesmerized by it. Their vision extended only as far as the stage. Performing together since the early 1970s, the Philadelphia-formed duo certainly don’t have to defend their place in the soul-pop pantheon, having produced indelible hit after indelible hit well into the ’80s. But they also don’t have to make acknowledging their accomplishments feel like an obligation, as they did Wednesday night while cramming 16 of those songs into a 90-minute set that only occasionally wandered into the present.

“Out of Touch,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “She’s Gone,” “Rich Girl” and “Maneater,” enduring songs all, were presented rather than performed. If the merchandise booths were selling scorecards, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The encore — with hurried versions of “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes” and “You Make My Dreams Come True” — was just another box checked, another check cashed.

Only when Hall, Oates and their backing band — six musicians in all, each as competent, as reliable and as exciting as a light switch — attempted to outrun themselves, as they did on the elastic, 1974 jazz-rock indulgence “Is It a Star?” and the Temptations-suggesting “One on One,” did they sound anything like their old selves. You shouldn’t have to shout for joy, but you shouldn’t have to mourn it, either.

jcline@southflorida.com, SouthFlorida.com/MondayHitList, Twitter.com/jakeflorida, Facebook.com/jakecline, 954-356-4941

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