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Steely Dan: Internet Request Night!

Maximum Performance

It was hard to resist the notion of seeing Steely Dan performing in Los Angeles Tuesday night for two reasons: First, the highly respected, quirky, all around fab band have given a staggeringly low number of live performances since forming, taking an extended hiatus, and reuniting yet again in the course of the past 35 years or so. Secondly, what they planned to play was entirely what ticket buyers themselves wanted to hear.

In fact, check out the core Steely Dan dudes, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and their explanation below of what "Internet Request Night" was really supposed to be about. Want to hear a particular song? Which song?

 

 

And so it was that band played a few select cities for several nights, ran through a few of their classic albums--Aja, Gaucho, and The Royal Scam--one apiece each night, and then, in Boston, New York, LA & Chicago--opened the floodgates for fan requests.

In LA, the music was played impeccably well, as anyone who's seen the group since their intermittent '90s reunions might expect; aside from a uniformly talented array of musicians, the stage boasted the presence of stellar guitarist Larry Carlton, longtime Dan acquaintance and the man responsible for what some have called the finest rock 'n' roll guitar solo of all time--that which highlights "Kid Charlemagne" from The Royal Scam. It, and much more, was played on Tuesday and the overall effect, for any longtime fan, bordered on the mind-blowing.

Raw setlists are no fun to read, but be advised that highlights of LA's Internet Request Night included opener "Black Friday," "Aja," "Hey 19," "Dirty Work"--sung by a trio of background singers, since it was originally sung by brief Dan lead vocalist David Palmer long ago--the incredible "Bodhisattva," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," and...ah, why go on?

It struck me while watching the band playing "Kid Charlemagne" that when the audience--often up, enthused and on their feet--loudly sang the second half of this lyric couplet aloud--"Is there gas in the car/ Yes, there's gas in the car"--that in all my years of concert going, I had never before seen an enthused Steely Dan audience singing that lyric before. Mainly because by the time Royal Scam was released in 1976, the band had retired from the road and I'd never before seen the song performed live. For that matter, after years of getting a physical sense of what sort of people one might encounter at concerts by, say, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Paul McCartney or Van Halen--I realized that I actually had no credible idea of what Steely Dan fans actually looked like. Interesting to see.

In all, the performances were brilliantly executed, the music sounded better than ever, the wit and charm that has characterized every Steely Dan recording since their 1972 debut Can't Buy a Thrill was present and conspicuous, and the show was one of the best I've seen in the past several years. We are lucky they're making up for lost time. Wish you were there.

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