Wantagh, New York
August 22, 2003
Jones Beach was definitely abuzz for the first Steely Dan show in New York in quite some time. It was a decidedly older crowd filling the parking lot, tailgating and milling about while anxiously scanning the stage for a glimpse of Donald Fagen and/or Walter Becker. When Steely Dan took the stage the crowd seemed transported back in time to their youth. The applause was deafening and the crowd gave the band a standing ovation before a single note was even played.
Steely Dan is a jazz-rock-pop mystery. They hate touring. They record infrequently (three band albums in the past 20-some odd years) and yet when they do play, they command the attention of every member of the audience. It was a beautiful breezy Friday evening, a night on which the gods decided that even though the forecast was for rain, the clouds would stay away and the concert would not be halted. Each an every member of the audience was rewarded with a "classic" Steely Dan performance.
Backed by a fantastic touring band which included Cornelius Bumpus on sax, hometown boy John Herington on guitar, Tom Barney on bass and wunderkind drummer Keith Carlock, Becker and Fagen let the band play and improvise and stretch their muscles on the tunes. Fagen who spent much of the evening singing from behind his keyboards was in fine voice. Becker was content to stay off to the side and play the hell out of his instrument. He only occasionally took to the forefront to intro songs, once to introduce the band members during "Slang Of Ages" and once to handle the lead vocals on "Haitian Divorce." The emphasis was completely on the music which was played to perfection by an all-star band backing fantastically dark lyrics.
On this evening, the beauty of the music was augmented by the fact that the band was decidedly leaning toward playing heavily-jazz influenced versions of the songs in the Steely Dan canon. This definitely was not a show filled by carbon copies of their greatest hits. By focusing on and leaning heavily on freestyling arrangements (for the majority of the show), the audience was treated to a wonderful mix of jazz-funk soul.
The audience enthusiastically greeted the show's openers, a funky instrumental (ala old time jazz shows) and "Aja." What followed was a fantastic meshing of old and new: "Time Out of Mind," "Godwhacker," "Caves Of Altamira," and "Black Cow" were but a few of the pieces populating the first set. After a twenty minute intermission (and a change of clothes) the band re-emerged to the strains of "The Steely Dan Show," a one-minute ditty written for just this purpose and as Becker put it "as a shameless opportunity for self-promotion."
The second set featured a "Janie Runaway/Hey 19" medley; the aforementioned "Haitian Divorce;" "Things I Miss The Most" (another new one from Everything Must Go ); a wonderful version of "Parker's Band" (sung by backing vocalists Cynthia Calhoun, Cindy Mizelle and Carolyn Leonhart). Following "Parker's Band," Becker and Fagen kicked it up a notch and segued into the "Hits" portion of the show. "Josie," "Kid Charlemagne" and "Don't Take Me Alive" rounded out set two.