First the bad news. The DAR Constitution Hall is about the worst sounding big hall I have ever heard. The louder the music got, the more muddy it became, and for those of us spoiled by Steely Dan's anal attention to sound quality both recorded and live, it was quite a comedown. Freddy Washington's Bass was pretty much unintelligible throughout the show, and that is truly a drag. The DAR makes my guest bathroom sound like Carnegie Hall.
Now the good news. There was an opening act, The Deep Blue Organ Trio. Out of Chicago, the DBOT is a classic Organ trio, OGD in the tradition of Jimmy Smith and more. The brief set was all swing, played with virtuosity and dynamics. An original blues was followed by a swing cover of Earth, Wind and Fire's "Can't Hide Love", an arrangement I plan to cop asap. They finished with a medium groove on "These Foolish Things", with the Mother of all out-vamps finishing the set.
After a brief reset, the Steely Dan back-up band did a quick rendition of "Teenie's Blues", from the great album "Blues and the Abstract Truth" by Oliver Nelson. Then out came Don &Walt, and the vocalists in their typical deployment. Girls stage right, horns rear and stage left. At the edge of stage right was a small stand with a speaker box turntable. Vocalist Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery ventured to the TT, dropped an LP on the spindle, and placed the tone-arm down. The band immediately kicked in the groove for "Kid Charlemagne", and the LP party was ON. There are few other records I would say would be worth doing this. Obviously Dan's 3 they have done (Scam, Aja and Gaucho) plus any of their other '70's offerings. Dream ideas would be "Rubber Soul", "Revolver", "I Am", "Rags to Rufus", "Sticky Fingers", "The Nightfly", "Native Dancer", "Music of My Mind", "Child is Father to The Man".
"Scam" is a true work of art; a band at its most innovative moment, stretching their own boundaries and surrounding themselves with musicians on the highest level. The lyrics are nonpareil, the grooves are to die for, the arrangements and solos all amongst the best ever put on record. "Caves of Altamira" is my personal favorite song by SD (a close second is "Pixeleen"), and it is a smoker live. Guitarist Jon Herrington kicks off one of Dan's only true rocker songs, "Don't Take Me Alive". Visually, the only thing to look at are the female vocalists, and of course drummer Keith Carlock, more animated than I have ever seen. As the girls do their bg's on the ascending "Mu" chords of the verse, the astoundingly good light show highlights them. In fact, the lights throughout the show were stunning and entertaining. A good thing since Don and Walter are a tad static in stage presence. Next was "Sign In Stranger", which I've never seen live, and it was great. The 'not-Donald' keyboardist, Jim Beard was more than a capable stand in for the original piano part by Victor Feldman. The 1st side ended with "The Fez", possibly the best song ever written about prophylactic use. The girls did all the vocals, Donald went off stage, presumably for a quick nap. Or maybe they took him out for the last 2 minutes before halftime to keep him out of foul trouble.
Carolyn returned to the turntable, lifted the tone-arm, flipped the LP, replaced the tone-arm, and the band fired up Side 2, 1st track Green Earrings, groove entirely intact. Herrington and Walter had some fun trading solos at the end. This was followed by certainly the crowd favorite, "Haitian Divorce". The only time I heard this performed was in Hershey a few years back, and Walter sang lead. Some tunes are fine for the Becker pipes, the Divorce is not one of them. Thankfully, Donald took the lead on the song this time, and it was strained, but very true to the original. No talk box solo by Jon, but the feeling of the recording survived. Then came the only rearrangement of the album part of the show; "Everything You Did", which I renamed "Everything You Did When you Got Home At Last". They changed the groove to the Purdie Shuffle, and it worked beautifully. The album portion of the show ended when they did the title track, and it was glorious just as the lyrics say. Amazing work by Jim Pugh, on the Scammy trombone.
When the recital portion ended, Donald finally addressed the audience. We were now going to hear songs from the entirety of their "illustrious career". In fact, every album was represented except, curiously," Two Against Nature", their Grammy winner. They started with "Hey 19", which, now that I have a 19 year old daughter, and now that Donald is on the other side of 60, I found creepier than ever. Can't Buy a Thrill was represented by "Dirty Work" (sung by the women), and the lone encore, "Reelin' In The Years". Countdown to Ecstasy contributed "My Old School", Pretzel Logic gave us "Show Biz Kids" (which was a bit tired, honestly), Katy Lied was saluted with Walter singing "Daddy Don't Live in That New York City no More", Aja was, as always, well referneced with "Peg", "Josie" and an amazing version of its title track, which had Tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and drummer Carlock blowing the doors off the middle and end vamps. "Godwhacker" was the offering from Everything Must Go.
No solo pieces were played, interestingly enough. So nothing from Morph, Circus Money, Nightfly etc. If you saw Donald's Morph the Cat tour, you got plenty of that stuff.
The crowd was pretty advanced in age, lots of older musician types. At one point during the organ trio part, the crowd started clapping on the 1 and 3, a very anti-jazz thing to do. My friend, drummer George Jones commented on how pathetic white people's sense of rhythm is. My wife countered with, "Actually they are clapping right. It's just the delay from their hearing aids". Nice one! George returned from the Men's room wondering why there were "Flomax" ads down there. Another nice one. Well the boys of irony are getting on in years themselves, but still, the genius of their songs, and the brilliance of the musicianship with which they surround themselves make for an exemplary night of music.