Monday, August 3, 2009
Nothing But Blues And Elvis..And Some Really Bad Vibes
I have a lot of friends, and approximately 19 of them hate Steely Dan; Donald Fagen specifically. They hate him so much that when I arrived at my favorite watering hole, a place where everybody knows my name, and they're (almost) always glad I came, my casual mention of the evening's plan to see them perform at NYC's Beacon Theatre, prompted one friend to comment with the same warmth usually reserved for murderers and child molesters.
"Really? Are you f**king serious? I can't believe you. Oh my God! (His arms are flailing now and he is starting to pace.) What's wrong with you? Fagen is such a d**k! I hate him AND I hate that music. I once broke up with the hottest girl I had ever met in my life because she liked Steely Dan."
These were the words of just one man. My friend and the on-duty bar manager, stormed out of the place. (He stormed back 30 seconds later.) Another friend came over and asked, "What's up with him?" I said, "I told him I was seeing Steely Dan tonight." "Oh, I hate Steely Dan," she said ."It's ok if you like them." (Really? Doesn't seem it.) I also received an anonymous text from a Santa Rosa area code that said, "Who the hell still listens to Steely Dan?" (I'm not kidding) Needless to say, when I got to my $100 balcony seat, I was not in the mood for any of what followed. I was actually thinking, "Man, I hate Steely Dan AND that terrible watering hole."
The band played flawlessly, of course, opening with an instrumental called Teenie's Blues, while the main Steely Dans waited in the wings. The orchestra barely moved, except for the body parts used to get sound out of their instruments. The three back-up singers, with nothing to sing yet, swayed rigidly, as if they were mounted on poles. THIS is Steely Dan. Some see solid musicians recreating the perfection of the studio. Others, the haters, see aliens, with ice in their veins, and coal for souls. I do too, sometimes. Becker and Fagen's pretentious lyrics bother me more than the slick hired hands they call a band. (And nothing bothers me more than music snobs, by the way.) Still, it's hard not to love the 5 classic albums released between 1972-1977, the guitar solos that have become songs of their own, and the infectious riffs and choruses of so many of their FM radio hits.
Since my night was "Internet Request Night" of the Beacon Theatre residency, and not one of the evenings where they played one of their "major works" in its entirety, once Don & Wally took the stage, I was surprised to hear the band open with side one of "Aja," followed by side two. Fagen explained that the whole record was voted for on the internet poll, so "we figured, what the hell?"
I have to admit, I barely enjoyed it, partly because I was confused. The band had canceled "Gaucho Night" earlier in the week, so had the week been reformatted? Is my night now "Aja Night?" Am I overreacting? Some would say so. Still, I let this easy-to-hit curve ball, as well as the aforementioned tongue-lashing affect me. I focused on everything but the music, including one additional, less than pleasant event on my way to the venue. (Another time. Another blog.) Barely 9PM, and this night was just about unsalvageable.
Adding insult to injury, Fagen had lost his voice. If you closed your eyes, you may have thought it was Carol Channing singing "Deacon Blues." (Was "Gaucho Night" canceled due to Fagen's illness?) His voice was frail, and cracked at every chorus. The show must go on, but I was NOT amused.
"Kid Charlemagne," "Rikki...," "Any Major Dude...," "FM," "Doctor Wu,"--musically, it all sounded fine. Perfect, actually. But, I am afraid that on this particular Saturday night, it was something else I may have been looking for.
This is a review of the 1964 classic, "Five Live Yardbirds" from this month's Uncut Magazine:
"Visceral, sweat-soaked, live LP, recorded at a packed Marquee. Clapton's guitar is hard-as-nails, Samwell-Smith's bass runs are stupendous and the 'rave-ups' make your hair stand on end."
That is exactly what Steely Dan isn't. In their defense, that is not what they advertise themselves to be, especially since the band does not include a 20 year old Eric Clapton, or any other young guys playing raucous British blues. But THAT is what I needed after the shaky start to my night. Instead, I was surrounded by a bunch of guys with bored girlfriends and wives, playing air Fender Rhodes to "Babylon Sisters." I realize that it is unfair to blame the band or the enthusiastic audience for my lack of enjoyment, but it's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to. And I still don't understand why the crowd was going nuts. I don't care how much you love a band, Fagen barely showed up. Even if I hadn't been raked over the coals for most of the night prior, and got to my $100 balcony seat in the best mood, Fagen still sounded like crap. I asked the guy next to me what he thought. His answer, "I like when Fagen's fried."
What does that mean?
I prefer my chicken fried, not my evenings or lead singers.
At least they didn't do "Godwhacker."