There are only a handful of artists I will consciously make an effort to go and see every time they come to town, and one of them is Steely Dan.
So when I was invited by the great people at Live Nation to check out their first of a three night residency at The Met on Wednesday night, where they would perform their masterwork “Aja” in its entirety, plus all the hits, I was more than a little excited.
Admittedly, I did approach the show with a bit of trepidation. I’ve been going to Dan shows for over 25 years, and this would be the first time I’d be seeing them without their founding member, guitarist and live compère Walter Becker, who died in 2017 (I missed the BB&T show they co-headlined with The Doobie Brothers last summer.) Would this still FEEL like a Steely Dan show not seeing those two swinging and swaying and grooving onstage? Will that ever-present mojo be there? Even Donald Fagen himself contemplated canning the Steely Dan name after Walter’s passing, but was talked out of it by show promoters.
It didn’t take long for “that” feeling to come over me when, just before 9:00, the 13-piece Steely Dan Band took the stage and immediately launched into “Black Cow,” the opening track on Aja. It also didn’t take long for the emotions to fire up. On the very spot onstage where Walter would be playing was a music stand and a microphone, unused and placed there in tribute.
As you’d expect, the band were extremely tight right from the start. They handled the “Aja” album with all the technical brilliance and feel we’ve come to love from them and, with a few variances in the original’s arrangement (Fagen’s lovely melodica solo on the title track, for one), played it virtually identically to the album versions.
Once we caught our collective breaths, after the last notes of Josie, Aja’s festive final track, stopped reverberating off the walls of this beautiful opera house, and we sat back in our chairs after an uproarious standing ovation, next came the hits. Lots of them. In all my years of seeing this band, must be seven or eight times now, I’ve never heard a setlist full of more time tested, fan-loved Dan classics, with a couple of nice surprises thrown in.
These songs can only be delivered this effectively when played by master musicians and, while Steely Dan fans have long been accustomed to the players Fagen and Becker have assembled here; that super-human drummer Keith Carlock, Freddie Washington and his tasty bass licks, Jim Beard’s keyboard wizardry, the always-delightful horn section, and those sweet-sounding Danettes on background vocals, the eyes this time around were on a 24 year old guitar whiz from Woodstock, NY named Connor Kennedy. He was selected to be second guitarist in the band, behind musical director and guitar legend Jon Herington, after Becker passed.
The kid is incredible. He absolutely has “it” – that Steely Dan vibe that can’t properly be explained. To say he’s a perfect fit is as close to spot-on as you can get. Welcome aboard, young man.
But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the show for me was something I hadn’t even noticed until my wife, who has been my Steely Dan cohort at every single show, mentioned it on the car ride home. She asked, “did you notice how much Donald Fagen appreciated that band tonight?” Yes, yes I did! She was right. As he slowly walked around the stage, melodica in hand, he seemed genuinely grateful for what the band had done to bring the songs he and his longtime partner had so carefully crafted, to life. And as I hoped he would, between “Kid Charlemagne” and “Dirty Work,” he remarked that the Met was “kind of a nice place. What’s it called…swank!”
The vibe was absolutely there. The very spacious Met, in all its majesty, seemed like an intimate room while the show went on, and it was a wonderful feeling.
At the end, after the epic closer Reeling In The Years, and that ferocious drum solo from Carlock was done, Fagen thanked the crowd, and thanked his partner Walter, and as the band went into a cover of Joe Williams “A Man Ain’t Supposed To Cry,” we left, misty-eyed and totally satisfied that we had, indeed, seen another remarkable Steely Dan show. We also left VERY much looking forward to seeing them perform “Gaucho” and lots more hits on Friday night, and a night full of hits Saturday evening.
I could get very used to a Steely Dan residency at The Met!
Steely Dan will perform at The Met, Friday 11.8 and Saturday 11.9.