Reelin' In. . .

Fagen, channeling Ray Charles...Steely Dan at the Sound Board, Motor City Casino

Detroit, September 5, 2009

She resembled Kate Hudson in Almost Famous: slight, lithe, sexy. Her hair fell in ringlets, but red, not blonde. She was no older than the 21 required to attend, and her ID may have been gamed. She moved to the music with both intensity and grace, with familiarity and joy. And she was dancing to Steely Dan playing “Reelin’ in the Years,” a song that was released when she and her husband or fiance—there was a flash on diamond on her left hand, and she probably would know it—were still unrealized, undoubtedly not even considered. But there they were with seemingly boundless enthusiasm.

Those two were an anomaly at the Motor City Casino, not with regard to their enjoyment and appreciation, but demographically. By and large, those who packed the venue appeared as though they would have just as easily been spending that Saturday night at a Class of 1977 high school reunion. The men were buldging and balding; the women were trying and sagging. “The weekend at the college / Didn’t turn out as you planned.”

But there they were, Fagen and Becker. Walter Becker, bearded and bespeckled, wearing a blue blazer over a striped polo shirt and a pair of jeans that he could have bought on sale at Meijer; Donald Fagen, behind the piano, channeling Ray Charles in artful appearance and demeanor. These are not the guys for whom screaming for could be imagined when they were in the flush of youth. Yet screaming and whistling there were, like when the home team won the Homecoming game. When have you attended a performance when the crowd en masse spontaneously sang along with the songs, without the performer cupping his ear or gesturing with a microphone toward the audience? It was Spirit Night. Somehow, the people imagined that they were back.

Hey Nineteen

That’s ‘Retha Franklin

She don’t remember

The Queen of Soul

It’s hard times befallen

The sole survivors

She thinks I’m crazy

But I’m just growing old

It was a musically remarkable event, with the two against nature backed by a horn section, lead guitarist (Becker took a few leads but mostly tapped his right foot ever so slightly, then his left, as he played rhythm), bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and a trio of drop-dead gorgeous backup singers that would have made the late Robert Palmer jealous both visually and audibly. (As neither Fagen nor Becker had sung the lead on the original “Dirty Work,” in a stroke of something this side of paradise, the women took on the singing of that song. Who says you can’t buy a thrill? Fagen undoubtedly knows that his pipes are limited, so having a trio like that makes a significant difference.)

Steely Dan at the Sound Board, Motor City Casino

Steely Dan was not out on tour in support of a new album. The event at Motor City was the last performance in the Rent Party ’09 leg one tour. In some venues, they were playing albums in their entirety: Aja, Gaucho, The Royal Scam. Some nights they were playing what had been voted on via the ‘net. In Detroit, it was everything from “Black Friday” to “Peg,” from “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More” to “Aja.” During Becker’s introduction of the band members, the Agee, Leonhart-Escoffery, and Russell sang the parts of Ross, Wilson, and Ballard, as they performed “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart,” the Supremes hit of 1966.

The band didn’t play a song that was newer than a 1980 release. Consider that number for a moment. Do the math. Yet this didn’t seem to be a nostalgia tour, or one of those events put together for summer outdoor music venues or state fairs. This was a band doing what it is that they do. They were out in public, doing their jobs, paying their rent. They are professionals, not pseudo-phenomena. And they worked hard, and they worked well.

The Sound Board theater in the Motor City Casino is just two miles south of where Motown was born on West Grand Boulevard. Steely Dan knew where they were.

Steely Dan: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki, web.

Thumbnail photo by Warren Skalski; iPhone photo by Mike Visser.

12 thoughts on “Reelin' In. . .”

  1. Having seen the Dan four summers in a row now, this was arguably their best show. They had little trouble finding the groove at the beginning, but once found, it was deep. Only complaint: I missed the first two songs due to the nonexistent opening act, which made the show seem a bit short.

  2. I saw three Dan shows this summer. All three good but the setlist is unimaginative – too many guitar hero laden songs. Also Fagen’s voice was a little strained and didn’t have the full emotion he usually delivers (a 4 night stand in Chicago just before this may be the culprit)

  3. Trainwrexx, pls. don’t base your opinion of the Dan solely on that one relatively weak release; as long as you’ve listened to the Aja album top to bottom at least once in your life, you at least have a truer flavor of what they’re all about.

  4. I live in the UK, and have been a fan of Steely Dan since the early seventies, and Can’t buy a thrill, I have seen SD only twice in all these years, in 07 & 09, I am a HUGE fan. I cannot tell you how much I love their music, .At the concerts I attended there were serious men ‘of a certain age'(me too I suppose, but I don’t feel it.I just cannot keep still when they play, and want to dance, however no one seems to get up out of their seats…WHY>>>such a shame, but I did get to dance to the last three songs.

    I don’t think that Steely Dan care much about the UK fans, 3 shows only here, and I can see why they were disinterested…Edinburgh to Birmingham & then London, and then Paris, Italy, Switzerland et al.

    I wish they weren’t so aloof

    too, over 30 years is a LONG time to be such a devoted fan.

    they truly don’t seem to care. I hoped for a conversation with the audience…No chance

  5. Barbara: Well, just consider the current home page here at GloNo and you can see that those of us on this side of the Atlantic are pretty obsessed by a non-existent British band, so it could put the lack of interest in SD over there into some context.

  6. I just saw Steely Dan last night in Minneapolis. I saw them in 1996 and i thank last night show was much better then the 96 show. I believe it is because in 96 they played a bigger venue the Target Center. Last night they played at the Northrop on the University of Minnesota Campus.Myself wife and two friends had a wonderful time. The sound was great Donald Fagan sounded great and Walter Becker’s solo’s were wonderful. The whole band was tight. They played all of the Aja album and then they played some of there personal favorite songs. The show lasted 2hrs.

  7. I, too, saw them in Minneapolis last night with my husband. These musicians are completely prepared. The arrangements are pure genius. The musicianship is first rate. My favorite of the night was Boddhissatva (sp?). As the reviewer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press described it…”it was brisk & electrifying”. I was thrilled that they played “Time Out of Mind’ & ‘Reelin’ in the Years’. We saw them 6 years ago in St. Paul. Loved that night as well. I hope to go again in the near future!!! They, for all their cynicism, are music masters!!

  8. The wife and I also had our minds totally blow in Minneapolis. Steely Dan is my all time favorite band and they played brilliantly. Donald did drop a few lines but that just made us laugh. My wife leaned over and said “50 bucks” each time he did. (its a musicians joke lol)great sound and hay lets give some serious credit to the lighting designer. That light show was stunning and perfectly tied into the music

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