Was this a rock concert or an orchestra performance? I'd played at many more orchestra performances than attended them, so I can't be sure. But I could say that this was definitely different than most of the rock concerts I'd attended.
Where were the black T-shirts? The AC/DC playing in the background? The, um, people my age?
Of course, I didn't care. After a white-knuckle drive through Colorado's first major snowstorm of the year (more than a foot), where my car occasionally skated more than drove, I was happy to be there with all my major organs. Besides, I admitted that I, myself, was wearing basically the same outfit, without the Dockers or loafers and with a slightly hipper black sweater and Nikes.
And I had always wanted to see Steely Dan.
Steely Dan ranks in the top 5 of my all-time favorite groups. I have the box set and know all the words (the ones I can decipher, anyway), and I'm one of those who roll their eyes when someone calls himself a fan because he knows "Reelin' in the Years," like the hardcore fans of Led Zeppelin who don't want the band to play "Rock and Roll" at a show.
It's an odd mix, yes, my love for loud, crunchy guitars, fast drums and screaming vocals coupled with a band that could be played at coffee shops. But it comes from my background in jazz bands and love for original artists. I still love jazz, and there isn't much better than Steely Dan.
I've always considered them a jazz band with rock tendencies, not the other way around, and sure enough, the band proved it at Thursday's concert. The opening act was an organ jazz trio (imagine THAT at a Metallica show), and when the Dan band came out, the four-piece horn section opened with a combo tune and each took a turn soloing. Can you imagine Slayer hitting the stage and noodling around on "Fly Me To the Moon?" Yeah, me either. Several times during the show, the band played different arrangements and the solos were improvised, not memorized pieces from the albums. It was as much a jazz concert as it was a rock and roll show.
I went alone, partly because I get to go to a show like once a year, so I tend to splurge when I go (I paid $150 for nearly front-row seats), and partly because it's Steely Dan, and partly because I'm lame. But it didn't matter. There were many who joined me, intent on the music and not dancing around. Several just sat there and listened. It was, again, like an orchestra concert, or more like we were there to see Wynton Marsalis. I was starting to feel pretty fucking sophisticated and shit.
Then I smelled the pot.
I never know where the pot comes from. I never really find it. I don't have Pauly's nose or radar (or a girlfriend who gets baked more than brownies at a Martha Stewart show). It was a nice reminder that this was still a rock concert, even if we were sitting down and I wasn't thrashing my head back and forth like it was attached to a Slinky.
As The Dan launched into its full performance of "Aja," I was reminded why I love the band so much. The guys don't tour often, which was one reason I'd never seen them (another is because, again, I'm lame). It's easy to see why. The music is fucking HARD. The Dan needed two guitarists (including the brilliant Walter Becker), a pianist, three female backup singers, the horn section (bari sax, tenor, trumpet and trombone), bass and drums, in addition to Donald Fagen's vocals and organ work, to pull it off. And I was amazed at how many times the Dan NAILED the complex songs, tempos and changes (jazz musicians regularly include their music among the Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in their sets).
Fagen didn't speak to the crowd during the "Aja" set, preferring to pretend the record was on during a cocktail party (one of the female singers even "put on" the record on a beat-up turntable, and the band was so serious about playing along with the illusion, she switched to side B halfway through).
I love "Aja," and it did make me realize how much we miss these days by not owning albums anymore (I'm guilty of this myself, choosing to download singles probably 90 percent of the time). It's so awesome when you get a record that plays seamlessly from start to finish, with the powerhouse tunes ("Peg," "Deacon Blues," "Black Cow" and "Josie" blending well with the few weaker tracks on the record. The weaker tracks ("Home at Last") were there to give us a break before we got our socks rocked off again. More bands should play albums in full; it's a perfect way to enjoy the first half of a show.
The Dan played an hour and a half after that, maybe rewarding us a bit for traveling through the icy roads and snowy air.
There were two minor missteps. One was near the end of the show, when the band played "Dirty Work," one of the band's first major hits (it might have been the very first), and since it's one of the few tracks not sung by Fagen, the girls took turns singing the lines. It was nice to hear the trio featured on a song, but it came across far too karaoke for a band of the Dan's caliber. And I'm being greedy, but I wish the guys had played at least one song from their last two albums, including "Two Against Nature," which earned them their only Grammys.
My highlights included "Bodhisattva" (few bands could pull that one off so well live), "Don't Take Me Alive" (my favorite song by the band), "Time Out of Mind" and a cool arrangement of "Show Biz Kids."
And, of course, "Reelin' in the Years." The band played it as an encore. The crowd rushed the stage and cheered the loudest.
That's OK. It really is a great song.
The Complete "Aja" album:
Home At Last
I Got The News
Second set (not in order)
Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More (sung by Walter Becker)
Don't Take Me Alive
Time Out of Mind
My Old School
Reelin' In The Years - Encore
No "Do It Again." Phooey.