Monday, August 10, 2009

Men of Steel

As part of the seemingly endless series of great concerts that I've attended on other peoples' dimes, friend Noah took me to see Steely Dan at Foxwoods this past Friday. Ostensibly, the gift was on his part a portion of the 'payment' for his new website that I'm designing (it's on my list of things to do, as they say).

The show itself was quite good - the band was tight (according to Noah, it's pretty much the same band that they've toured with for the last decade or so) and the mix was clear. I left the theater to urinate about halfway through the set, and it turned out that they were feeding a live mix into the bathroom and even the mix in the bathroom was pretty damn good. Actually, a little better, since it wasn't quite so boomy.

I've long said that I like bands to make the live experience a unique one, by reworking older material and giving it some life. Steely Dan put that to the test, though, as I found myself being mildly disappointed that they played all of their early material in their late-period lounge-fusion style of Aja and Gaucho. Not so much disappointed that they'd reworked it, but that the set could have used a little more tonal variety. Since they played the later material pretty much note-for-note - by making 'Dirty Work' (for example) from a lovely and sad organ driven ballad with calliope undercurrents into yet another dry ironic seen-it-all take on relationships (that's what the later sound does) - the set started to sag a little in the middle. I felt that most strongly with the transformation of the stuttering trumpet break of the original into a very smooth jazz solo. Nice, but I missed the original. Although I did very much like the nod to original singer David Palmer's absence by handing the vocal duties over to the trip of female backing vocalists.

One of said back-up singers was the reason we had such great seats (fourth row!), since Noah is friends with her - or perhaps friends through her husband.

The 'Most Pleasant Surprise' award for the show goes to Walter Becker, whom I've always thought was more of a background element in the band, but who turned in consistently great lead playing throughout the evening. In fact, I preferred his playing to the other lead player (Jon Herrington, also musical director) on most songs, until the rockier block towards the end of the set, where Herrington cut loose a bit.

Donald Fagen was in great voice, and spent 90% of the show seated center-stage right up front behind his Fender Rhodes. He now looks for all the world like the love child of Ray Charles and Golda Meir, and I guess he sort of plays, writes and sings like that odd genetic combination would suggest. One small disappointment with the mix was that his Rhodes was a little too low for my tastes - his comping is a pretty strong part of the Steely Dan 'sound,' to me - and the parts where the rest of the band came down and Fagen did a little bit of contemplative noodling were drowned out by whoops from the audience.

The show also made a nice contrast to the last live show I saw - Aterciopelados at the Prospect Park bandshell - in that the almost entirely white and middle-aged Steely Dan fanbase sat through all of the performance, unlike the Colombian Standing and Dancing gang at Aterciopelados. It must be said that I prefer to sit at concerts and always have, but the level of annoyance I get at having to stand at shows in order to see because the person in front of me is standing doesn't stem from the act of having to stand - it's from having a seat and then being forced by someone else to not sit in it if I actually want to watch the show I paid for.

There's an entire second Rambler to be written about the venue. Foxwoods is something else, sort of like a David Lynch Theme Park - but that's a Rambler for another day. Anyhow, thanks again to Noah for the show. I wonder what famous act I'll get to see for free next year?


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