Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Steely Dan @ Massey Hall, Toronto - Nov 26, 2009

Some ask me if Steely Dan aren't another of those washed-up relics of the sixties and seventies that aren't worth the dough to see live. Well, if you haven't got the news already, let me tell you.

Fagan and Becker are still the geniuses of cross-genre rock-jazz-funk-fusion and their live show is in its prime. Why? Because back in the day, when it was a hassle to tour, these guys made their money exclusively by recording albums with session artists who were some of the best musicians in the industry. Now, in the age where musicians are losing big on recorded music, the Dan are out on tour. They only started touring in 1994 and they have made only two "new" albums since 2000: "Two Against Nature" (2000) and "Everything Must Go" (2003). The live show is the focus: the roster of musicians, the quality of the material, and the working arrangements make it so that there has never been a better time to hear Steely Dan live.
Not only was I excited to hear one of my favourite bands live, but in my favourite venue, Massey Hall in Toronto. I've heard some pretty great shows there over the years and I have sung on that stage myself as part of a combined high schools' chorus. The building has so much to say. We moved to our seats, which were the very top centre of the gallery, chosen specifically so we could dance against the back wall without bothering anyone. The floor seats for this show were out of the question for us: $160 before service charges. Knowing that there are virtually no bad seats in the house, we opted for the $60 seats so that our family of three could go. I'm sure our 16yr old was the youngest person there. She's a Dan fan and she loved it!
As we found our seats, we were treated to a special surprise opener: the Deep Blue Organ Trio from Chicago. The sound of the Hammond B3 is my version of heaven. Chris Foreman on B3, Bobby Broom on guitar, and Greg Rockingham on drums was sweet music to my ears and got me psyched for more.

We caught Steely Dan on last year's summer tour. Let's compare:

Orillia, ON – July 4, 2008

Instrumental blues intro >
Everyone’s Gone To The Movies >
The Fez (minus Becker, Fagen & singers)
The Royal Scam
I Got the News
Everything You Did (reggae version)
Show Biz Kids (recent rearrangement)
Two Against Nature
Hey Nineteen
New Frontier
Do It Again
Gaucho (Becker vocal)
Glamour Profession
Parker's Band (Mizelle/Agee vocals)
Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart (Supremes cover, vocals by singers, band intros)
My Rival
Home At Last
Third World Man

E: Kid Charlemagne
Outro minus Becker, Fagen & singers

Steely Dan, Live @ Massey Hall, Toronto Nov 26, 2009
(night 2 – the Royal Scam)

Instrumental blues intro (sans Fagan & Becker)
Kid Charlemagne
Caves of Altamira
Don’t Take Me Alive
Sign in Stranger
Fez (sans Fagan/Becker/singers)
Green Earrings
Haitian Divorce
Everything You Did (reggae)
Royal Scam
Hey 19
Dirty Work (singers shared lead vocal)
God Whacker *(great!)
Aja (Fagan on melodica)
Daddy Don’t Live in that NYC no more
Show Biz Kids (rearranged)
Yearnin & Burnin (singers on leads)
piano improvisation (on Aja themes)
My Old School

e: Reelin in the Years (the “original version")
Instrumental outro (sans Fagan, Becker)

It would appear that the band in 2008 was already drawing heavily from the three albums it chose to feature on Rent Party '09 tour: Gaucho, Aja, and the Royal Scam. Some who were at both Toronto shows said the setlists were barely distinguishable from one another, drawing heavily from both Aja and the Royal Scam on both nights. With the difference that the Wed night crowd was treated to my fave, Babylon Sisters. That's okay, the Royal Scam is full of gems including: Haitian Divorce, Sign In Stranger, Green Earrings, the Caves of Altamira, and, of course, the favourite Kid Charlemagne. I love Kid Charlemagne because it sings of Owsley and San Francisco, the birth of the acid experience, and the disillusionment as a result of the changing of the scene.

Another interesting coincidence in terms of the Grateful Dead was that singing onstage was none other than Catherine Russell, amazing singer and musician in her own right, whom we heard with the American Beauty Project in Nov '07 as part of the Unbroken Chain conference, UMass. She led an incredible version of New Speedway Boogie with bluesy vocals and accompanying herself on mandolin. But that's another story...
The musicianship of this group is very tight. They are monsters! Full horn section, grand piano in addition to Fagan's keys, and an energetic drummer... The ensemble is well-rehearsed, and have to be with this kind of repertoire. This is musician's music - easy to listen to, difficult to play. I can't recommend to you enough what an enjoyable experience it is to hear the Dan live. If you love this music at all, go out and catch them next tour!

Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards)
Walter Becker (guitar)
Tawatha Agee [Backing Vocals: '08, '09]
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery [B. Vocals: '00-'09 Rent Party ]
Catherine Russell [B. Vocals: '08, '09]
Jim Beard [Keyboards: 08, 09]
Keith Carlock [Drums: 03-'09]
Freddie Washington [Bass: '06-'09]
Jon Herington [Guitar: '00-'09]
Michael Leonhart [Trumpet, Keys: '00-'09 Rent Party ]
Jim Pugh [Trombone: '00-'09]
Roger Rosenberg [Baritone Saxophone: '06-'09]
Walt Weiskopf [Saxophone: '03-'09]

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