“Ricky don’t lose that Number” – Steely Dan at the Molson Amphitheatre

Steely Dan 2007

Image via Wikipedia

Problem is, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan appeared to have done just that during Friday night’s performance. Sure they played most of the good and the greats. I guess when you have a collective song-book that spans over 40 years, what are you going to do? Apparently you leave out the one highly anticipated “are they gonna play it” hit and leave the audience on the edge of their seats assuming that it will be left till the encore. What you then have – and this is purely subjective according to my husband who wasn’t as disappointed – is a bunch (well at least 1 – me) of slightly deflated disappointed fans huddling out of the amphitheatre, looking back at the stage and the Miles High Big Band section who bookended the Steely Dan portion of the show – in disbelief as if to conjure up a third encore with the missing hit.

Also not played – my absolute favourite – “Mr Woo” (Katy Lied).

So that’s the negative over with!. This Tour called Shuffle Diplomacy Twenty Eleven was originally only going to be a US tour featuring the above mentioned Miles High Big Band and a trio of backing singers called “the Embassy Brats”. In May, Australia and New Zealand were also added the tour.

Having seen Donald Fagan a couple of times recently, I am “in love” with this style of music, stylish, classy, timeless and at the same time nostalgic – my husband tells me that he and his brother missed out on tickets for them in London in the 1970’s – sounds like the “Sade” review all over again or is it that I keep going to see huge retro acts/bands, where not only the quality of the music but the chance to re live a slice of my teens and twenties adds to the huge enjoyment derived from the experience.

I’m really sorry but to the opening act who played their hearts out as people were milling in and out of the arena, I have no idea who you were but the retro sound was a perfect intro and set the mood for the evening.

After these guys vacated the stage and the various stage-hands had shuffled the instruments and paraphernalia around, the lights came on to reveal the Miles High bands featuring the absolute genius Keith Carlock on drums; ; Jon Herington – guitar; Freddie Washington bass; Jim Beard keyboeards; with Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf, Roger Rosenberg and Jim Pugh on horns. They played some classic smooth numbers as Becker and Fagan ambled onto the stage. I hardly noticed them sidle into position though the roar of the crowd gave it away, Donald Fagan – with his trademark “cool cat” shades looked like a version of Stevie Wonder playing the entire set with his head tilted up and to the side; and Walter Becker looking like some old codger – portly and whiskered – remaining virtually static or seated for the entire set.

They were joined on stage by the three stunning backing singers – the Embassy Brats – comprising Carolyn Leonhart, Cindy Mizelle, and Catherine Russell. I’ve seen Catherine Russell a dozen times or so – she has the most amazing graceful arm and hand movements – yeah I know they’re all doing the formula standard backing singer sway – feet together (as if tied at the ankles); knees alternately bending with arm and hands over-emphasising each nuance of the music, but she always stands out, she is so statuesque and graceful with a blow away powerful set of pipes. These ladies were so perfectly in sync that they reminded me of 1920 animated cartoons, when they used to replicate images in long rows. Maybe that was why during the set-up for the encore they decided to put a larger than life Betty Boop beside the backing vocalists – in my mind that was appropriate but wondering if anybody can tell me the significance of this rather surprising addition to the ensemble.

The Embassy Brats got more chance to shine individually during this show than I’ve seen before with any backing group; featuring both individually during various tracks and collectively performing an amazing soul-tingling rendition of Dirty Work without Becker of Fagan. Absolutely superb……

The set-list consisted of the usual contenders (with the exception of the aforementioned numbers above) – Bodhisattva,; Hey Nineteen;, Josie, Peg, My Old School, Reelin’ In The Years, and Kid Charlemagne.with a smattering of lesser known numbers – Time Out of Mind; Black Friday, Your Gold Teeth and Showbiz Kids. Walter Becker sang one number and rapped amusingly over couple of other numbers – in a kind of Square-dance calling mode that did nothing to dispel the Farmer/country hick impression.

I hadn’t actually realised that Steely Dan ever “went away” with a parting of ways in 1981 and a reconciliation in 1986, when both Becker and Fagen got together to feature on an album (Zazu) by the former model Rosie Vela. If you get a chance to listen to this you’re in for a treat.

Neither did I realise that in 1975 they became a purely studio-based band until 1993 when they resumed playing “live” During their long long career their brand of cool jazz funk has occupied a niche in the market to the extent where despite gaps in their performing and “togetherness they have sold over 30 millions albums worldwide. Quite simply their music has had a place in every decade since the group’s inception during Becker and Fagan’s college years in Boston.

Never has the inevitable “Reelin in the Years” been so enjoyable


Over and Out


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