2009 Montreux Jazz Festival : Chickenfoot, Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan
“ "Dave Matthews is too f**king good to play before us." ”
Chickenfoot, Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan
Montreux Jazz Festival/Auditorium Stravinski
July 4, 2009
The United States were impeccably represented as the land of the free form during a Fourth of July special that showcased three distinct improvisational imports.
A packed, international crowd of well over 4,000 was ready for fireworks as Steely Dan proved up to the task of opening in the emotionally electrified environment. The veteran songwriting duo of guitarist Walter Becker and frontman vocalist and keyboard player Donald Fagen presented modified versions of their quirky catalogue during the first half of their program, then returned to familiar form for the set's finishing FM hit parade.
After an opening instrumental tune, which allowed the distinguished backing band of Freddie Washington (bass), Jon Herington (guitar), Keith Carlock (drums), and Jim Beard (keyboards) to loosen up, Becker casually strummed his way onstage to sincere howls of anticipation. He led the way for backup vocalists Tawatha Agee, Janice Pendarvis, and Catherine Russell.
Before he even sang a note the assembly seemed satisfied just to see Fagen stroll into position like a funky marionette. "The Dan" have maintained a particular cult following, and hundreds of those distinct characters were there.
The opening tune "Reelin' in the Years," from the groundbreaking debut Can't Buy a Thrill (MCA, 1972), was structurally unrecognizable except for the lyrics. The ambiguous arrangement set a surprising tone for altered stylistic states that followed. For the most part, newly metered angles were successful.
"This is the Steely Dan orchestra or something like that," Fagen told the masses. "We'll do some songs you know, we're glad you're here, and you can leave the rest to us." Besides offering heartfelt thanks many times, that was all Fagen said, as he left witty banter to Becker. Fagen definitely had a strong stage presence, however, as he pecked passionately inspired piano patterns.
Low key Becker handled vocals on "Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More," which vividly illustrated why Fagen is the singer. Fagen's vocals were uneven at times, but that's never been the point. It is his offbeat lyrics and delivery that have always made the group special, and there were frequently impressive twists and turns during the approximately 90-minute set.
Any imperfections were covered by the dynamic horn section of Jim Pugh (trombone), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Walt Weiskopf (sax), and Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax).
Highlights included "Show Biz Kids," "Peg," "Josie" and "Two Against Nature." Fagen was a subtle tour de force on "Babylon Sisters," and a fine, almost note for note rendition of "Aja" allowed Carlock some thumping glory. "Kid Charlemagne" gave Herington a chance to step out of the shadows and hit some great lead licks, but he held his place as a supporting, hired gun most other times.
Becker is not the best guitarist to ever take this stage, but his unique rhythmic approach often defines the Steely Dan sound, and that sound rang true. Quality can't always be measured by standard technique. Becker and Fagen don't need to be perfect, anyway. Hell, they're Steely Dan.
On the other highly polished hand, The Dave Matthews Band came out and kicked up the bar at least a couple notches during their 90 minutes.
Matthews, another oddball genius type, was the perfect fit to follow the Dan, and definitely the star attraction of this enchanted evening. Matthews is considered a superstar in many primarily English speaking regions, but surprisingly many Europeans polled in the auditorium area were unfamiliar with him.
Matthews' impeccable band and crazy fox personality quickly made new devotees of them all. Hundreds more fans, predominantly female, squeezed into the soon steamy auditorium for Matthews' set which consisted primarily of songs from the band's latest album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (RCA, 2009).
From the opening chords of "Shake Me like a Monkey" to the finishing song (dedicated to deceased founding member Leroi Moore) "Why I Am," the crew showed that their sound remains fresh and powerful after more than a decade as one of the US's ultimate concert acts.
The latest recording features more lead guitar than previous offerings, by longtime guest collaborator Tim Reynolds, and he got plenty of peak playing minutes during the concert.
Other full time band members, Boyd Tinsley (violin), Carter Beauford (drums), and Stefan Lessard (bass) each demonstrated they are worthy, equal components of the unit and probably one of the premier musical groups on the planet. Frequent sidekicks Jeff Coffin (sax) and Rashawn Ross (trumpet, backing vocals) proved to be other invaluable assets.
The reportedly often-shy Matthews is no stage hog, and he doesn't need to be.