When I was young, I hated Steely Dan. Not that I even knew who they were.
There was a radio show every Sunday night called "Reelin’ in the Years," that played classic rock and other "oldies." Appropriately, the theme song for the show was the Steely Dan song by the same name.
What is this old crap, I thought?
Plus, my parents listened to the Dan on long road trips. Yuck.
Then, in college, I "discovered" Pretzel Logic. THIS is the band that played that theme song?
I got hooked.
Thursday night was my first Dan show, and I must say I was impressed…
From the first note of the night, Steely Dan had the sold out Starlight Theater crowd eating out of the palm of their ridiculously polished hand.
They came out strong starting with the classics East St. Louis Toodle oo, Your Gold Teeth, Aja, and a super swingin’ Black Friday.
The band, all 13 strong, sounded clear and balanced, subtle and smart. Polished. Very polished. As expected.
And none more so than guitarist Jon Herington, who went to work early and often, replicating those first famous wah-wah licks from Toodle oo very ably, as well as pretty much all the other lead parts throughout the night. Walter Becker doesn’t really play the lead anymore, but no worries. There’s something to be said for recognizing one’s limitations and passing the torch.
Anyway, Herington is a badass.
Everything was smooooth. Drummer Keith Carlock also impressed, holding everything together with his precision fills and in-the-pocket time keeping. I think he might be a robot – he’s that good.
Donald Fagen was energetic and spot on throughout the night. At one point he left the stage for a good 10 minutes and came back looking a little wild, flailing his arms around and urging on the crowd.
What happens backstage, stays backstage.
Though Donald Fagen’s voice could be heard to strain now and again throughout the night, he still hits most of the notes easily. And when in doubt, the three women backup singers known as the Embassy Brats were right there to fill in the cracks with their creamy harmonies. The Brats were notable for their subtlety that really came through on the third song of the night, Aja, which the band dedicated to KC mayor Sly James, who was in attendance, and his daughter, Aja.
Rather than blaring through, it was more like a blend – where Fagen’s voice ended, their’s began.
I don’t know what kind of time a band like this has to spend in the rehearsal studio, but I imagine it’s something like 24/7. And I also imagine Donald Fagen and Walter Becker ruling as twin dictators, barking orders and rejecting anything short of perfection.
How else could they get it that tight?
Midway through the 5th song, Hey Nineteen, guitarist Walter Becker stepped to the mic to tell a little story as the Miles High Big Band vamped behind him.
"You know, up in New England we have a little saying: When the weather’s hot and sticky it’s not time for dunkin’ dickey," Becker began. "When the frost is on the pumpkin, it’s time for dickey dunkin’."
Hey, gilfs need lovin’ too, right?
"You know, you’re out here, you’re feeling like you did back in to ’70s, you plunked down your hard earned cash to go see a band," he continued, before pausing purposefully, grinning a prankster’s grin and adding, "And it’s worth every penny of it!"
The crowd roared.
"Then after the show, you take your girl back to your condo – that’s what we call motel rooms now – and maybe you break out a little crumbly, green vegetable matter, and maybe you get a bottle and pour a couple shots. And she looks at the thinnest joint she’s ever seen, and asks ‘What’s in the bottle? What’s in that bottle?’"
Oh Walter, you big goofball, we all know what’s in that bottle:
"The Cuervo Gold / The fine Colombian / Let’s make tonight a wonderful thing..." lilted the Embassy Brats.
A tad of momentum was lost with the next few songs, the less popular Time Out of Mind and new song Lunch With Gina.
Time to grab another beer.
By the time I got back the crowd was getting back into it with a long version of Show Biz Kids that featured a tasteful alto sax solo by Walt Weiskopf. Then they took it up another notch with a rippin’ version of Bodhisattva that seemed a little more uptempo than usual, and featured (guess who?) Herington and his magic fingers flying up and down the fret board on an extended solo jam.
The biggest ovation of the night so far affirmed Herington’s work, understated as his stage presence is.
But could I ask just one thing? Something that I don’t EVER remember asking for? Could you guys play just a little louder? I mean, it’s so good, I just want to feel it a little more. Rattle my eyeballs a little. I like it.
Next came some nice versions of Pretzel Logic, Dirty Work with all the vocals provided by the Brats, Josie, Peg, My Old School, and what had to be the closer, Reelin’ in the Years.
The only real "filler" of the night came near the end of the set, when Becker introduced every member of the band and let them do a little lick with the spotlight on them. Though good in theory, with a big band like theirs, it took almost 15 minutes. I would have rather heard Bad Sneakers or Deacon Blues.
Then again, I’m a selfish, greedy music junkie, so there’s that.
Maybe I should just be satisfied with a top notch band that played a ton of hits impeccably for over two hours, came back for an encore version of Kid Charlemagne, and left everyone feeling good.
Yeah, I should be.
And I was, I really was.