Monday, November 16, 2009

On Steely Dan





This weekend, Steely Dan played both Friday and Saturday nights, each night playing an entire album in its entirety, I went Saturday to see The Royal Scam performed to perfection. What is it like to see Steely Dan on a cold, midwestern Saturday? What is it like to venture to a theater to see a band whose enjoyment has brought you nothing but solitary happiness and public shame? What is it like to be part of something that no one else, not even your nearest and dearest, understands, or better, even wants to understand? (no Shindell)

It's fantastic. That's what it is. After parking my car and making my way out of the rather confusing lot at Grand Avenue, I walked the few blocks to the venue. Alone, with the wind and sleet blowing at my face, I wondered if this solo journey was really something I wanted to do. What was I proving? My feelings for this band are obvious, must I trudge through to this show all alone? As I approached the front of the Riverside, I stood around and waited, looking for anyone selling any tickets. After waiting a bit, I ran into one of my parents' friends, he too was alone. His solitude made me feel better about my own. We had a drink and waited for showtime to approach, hoping the closer it got, the more tickets might become available.

Ten minutes before the start of the show, I gave up hope and purchased a ticket from the box office. And even though I I felt my heritage boiling up in my blood for paying retail, I also felt safety, comfort in the fact I held a ticket. My entrance to a land of sonic perfection and live studio mastery was solidified. I was seeing the show.

I walked in and took my seat. Second floor, and where I was the attendance thined out a bit, everyone had a little bit of space. I had three seats to the right to myself. There was a guy four seats to my left. One guy in the row in front of me alone with three empty seats to his right. A woman in front of him, a man in the row across from her. We are all alone.

And I began to notice a trend. Many people came alone. Looking around, I saw a lot of us. And from all walks of life. Everyone around me seemed the same. They were neither loosers nor loners, they didn't have an air of loneliness about them, they had friends in real life outside of the Riverside Theater, yet regardless of what walk of life they came from, they couldn't convince any of their friends to go see Steely Dan with them, and thus, out of love for music played with unparalleled technical prowess, came alone to see one of their favorite bands. (no run-on)

And these people did come from all walks of life. The guy in front of me was an aging frat boy. New to town, transferred to Milwaukee from Virgina. And in between commenting on the unusual placement of a trombone solo in Hey 19 asked me where the best places were to meet girls, because according to him, in Virgina, it couldn't be any easier. And while I spoke volumes on Hey 19, I couldn't help with the girls, after all, I stopped going out ever since I decided to move to Virgina.

The guy to my left had most defiantly been at the show the night before why would I even ask such an obvious question. He told me just how good Home At Last was, after all, it is the hidden jewel on Aja. Also, and in a hint of a spectacle to come, spoke volumes of the drum solo on Aja, it apparently was transplendent. I knew even though Steely Dan was playing The Royal Scam, Aja the song with its transplendent drum solow would also be played after the completion of the album.

And the show began. The opening notes of Kid Charlemagne pounded and they were off to the goddamn races. The aging frat boy lept to his seat and with his left hand, played an air piano while with his right played and AIR FENDER RHODES. Yes that is correct, he played two different air keyboards, with two different hands, at the same exact time. Do you realize in real life, there were two people playing these instruments. Fagen played the real fender rhodes while some other dude in the band played the normal piano. Two people, yet one man, one giant dancing man was able to simultaneously and perfectly emulate both of these instruments.

Kid Charlemagne, in addition to two different keyboards, also features one of Steely Dan's greatest cynical lyric, a fuck you to song writing, we'll tell the damn story the way we wanna tell it. After Stanley Owsley III successfully synthesizes LSD, after all his low rent friends are dead, the world turns, the hippies join the human race and turn their backs on him. And now he's cleaning up this mess, he's gotta get out of town, and Fagen sings, "is there gas in the car, yes there's gas in the car," asking, answering, and telling us the only thing that is going through this guy's mind. Asking or answering a question about gas in a car any other way would be pretentious. Although one could argue the simplicity of this lyric, the accuracy of its simplicity, is pretentious enough. And if hearing this lyric live wasn't pretentious, the rollicking, barn-burning solo was as pretentious as it gets, I mean we're talking Thomas Pynchon reference.



After just killing it, they moved on. Right into Caves of Altamira. And after that, Don't Take Me Alive. It was worth noting, the aging frat boy sang, howled the part about "I crossed my old man back in Oregon" so loudly, I thought his story about being from Virgina was a lie. And again, let's look at a lyric or two, "agents of the law, luckless pedestrian..." Luckless pedestrian, this is what the man holed up in the bank or wherever is calling the hostages. Luckless pedestrian, amazing.

The pounding of the piano on Sign in Stranger, also imitated with perfection by the aging frat boy, although the woman in front of him joined the action as well. If I was not mistaken, she also used her right foot to simulate the foot pedals of the piano. Which at the time was the most amazing thing I had ever seen until Aja the song was played, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The Fez, a truly great Steely Dan song, was not spectacular. The song has almost no lyrics, just an amazing keyboard vamp and Fagen chanting a mantra to a woman, begging her to let him wear a condom, was sung by the background singers while Fagen left stage. Gimme a break. Just because you were cocaineb's house band doesn't mean you have an excuse to run offstage and relive 81 before the song is over.

Doesn't matter, cause whatever he did backstage fired his ass up to deliver an engaging version of Green Earrings and Haitian Divorce. Haitian Divorce featuring dueling guitar solos between Walter Becker and Larry Carlton. And a word on solo. These were not replicated versions of the guitar solos on the album. Steely Dan does not record a guitar solo in the studio and then play the same said solo every time they play said song. No. When Larry Carlton and Walter Becker traded guitar solos, they traded new, guitar solos. They engaged in the act of soloing. And not forever, no noodling, no hippy shit here. Their solos were within context of the song. And off appropriate length. Holla at your boy.



In Royal Scam the song, Fagen went off, screaming about the glory of the royal scam, really letting us know about what it must have been like to be a Puerto Rican hounded down to the bottom of a bad town. Also, in some interview, when asked what the Royal Scam is about, Becker replied, "it's about four minutes long!" A genius with the music, a genius with the comedy.

So they finished the album, and Fagen stood up and shoved his arms in either direction giving props to his band. Moving on to a collection of hits and deep cuts, when they busted out Aja the song, shit went a little crazy. Up till this point, I had seen many people throughout the audience playing a variety of air instruments. Drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, trumpet, trombone, even air background vocals, which I never knew possible.

A minute into the song, Fagen stood up, and busted out the weird-short-keyboard-thing-you-blow-into-and-only-hold-with-one-hand. I think it's called the melodica. And wouldn't you know, people actually did an air melodica. And I can say on the finger end, they matched it up quite well, not so sure on whether or not they emitted the proper amount of air (pause) as I didn't' hold a piece of paper up to their mouths.



So if seeing dudes do the air melodica wasn't enough, when it came time for Steve Gadd's decade defining drum solo (and while it's a solo, he's not the only dude playing, he's just soloing with other dudes still playing) everyone who had been so diligently doing their variety of air instruments, sat down. Why would people sit down for such a thing? Oh, only because you need to sit down to more properly and accurately duplicate the drum solo. If you think these were one handed air drum solos, you are wrong. If you think these are two handed, yet footless drum solos, you are still horribly wrong. If the drummer uses his feet, the fans will duplicate his solo with their feet. The wizardry onstage was matched only by the accuracy in the audience. It was an astounding thing to see. And I'm a better man for it too.



The only other major thing of note is the amount of fucked up adults, walking around in a trance. I saw security perpetually going up to people who were passed out with their heads down in their seats. Security repeatedly went up to these guys, making sure they were ok and bringing them water on some Neil Klein shit. In the words of Felicia at the end of season three, "it was worse than pathetic yo."

I think I've described the event in detail. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and my response will be prompt.

1 Comments:

Blogger freewheelingvagabond said...

hey there!
an interesting account of the experience you went through. i can really connect to the part about going to watch and listen to Steely Dan alone, some things in life are not just for everyone. too bad i can't attend a Dan show or any good show in the US. at least as of now.

5/28/10, 8:54 AM  

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