Zen Boogie!

A review of Steely Dan’s Atlanta performances
Chastain, August 6 & 7

First some truth in advertising. If you’re looking for objectivity regarding Steely Dan, perhaps you should look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for an honest opinion, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. What is objectivity anyway in this context? Is it adding a few negative comments that you really don’t believe in an attempt to balance the positive ones? I worship this band! And Saturday night’s performance was something of a religious experience for me. I’ve seen Dan nine times now, and Saturday’s show may have been the best I’ve ever seen.

My wife and I had great seats, box seats as they are called at Chastain, stage left, just beyond the table seats, near the beautiful Carolyn, Catherine, and Cindy (vocals), the Embassy Brats, as they’re billed this tour. It had rained earlier that day enough to cool things off, so the temperature was pleasant. I worried initially that it would rain during the concert, even bought some of those plastic ponchos just in case, but fortunately, it never did.

The band came out sans Donald and Walter and opened the show with a jazzy instrumental called “Dizzy’s Bidness.” But then Donald, Walter, and the girls took the stage, and the band tore into … “Your Gold Teeth”! Now I’m not talking, “Who are these children who scheme and run wild?” I’m talking:

There ain’t nothing in Chicago for a monkey woman to do

Cathy Berberian
Even Cathy Berberian knows …

Uh huh! This is the first year they’ve played that little ditty from 1973’s Countdown to Ecstasy, a fabulous tune that, while not about her per se, poked fun at avant-garde opera singer Cathy Berberian, while foreshadowing the jazzy direction Becker and Fagen would take us in the years that followed. And what of those seemingly one-off, too-complex-to-be-replicated keyboard riffs? … With ease! … With horns! … This big band took this tune in new directions. And I couldn’t help wondering what the twenty-somthing Walter and Donald, who penned this tune way back when, would have thought of this performance. Donald’s voice was strong. He seemed to sneer and snarl with a cynicism only sharpened by an additional nearly four decades of life. And the Brats chimed in:

Do you throw out your gold teeth?
Do you see how they roll?

The tune was perhaps a bit too obscure and cryptic for casual fans in the crowd. Pop subversives indeed! 🙂 But I sang every word. Every musician on that stage was a master of his instrument. This band was tight. This band was without peer. And this band knew it. The thinking man’s rock band were kicking ass right out of the gate.

Next up was a breathtaking rendition of “Aja,” the title cut of the best album ever recorded. (Objective?) Weiskopf (sax) and Carlock (drums) played it their own way, but they seemed to channel Shorter and Gadd from the recording. Ditto for Herington (guitar) versus Dias. There was an extended roaring applause. It occured to me that with just the first two tunes, we had witnessed the evolution of Dan. But I couldn’t ponder it long before the band ripped into a driving “Black Friday,” to remind us that gray men diving from the fourteenth floor are back in fashion.

There were so many other magical moments. Herington and Carlock’s command of “Bodhisattva.” There’s a reason Carlock keeps winning those drummer polls. A stellar rendition of “Green Earrings.” A fabulous horn arrangement on “Godwhacker,” the one New Testament hymn of the evening. Jim Beard’s extended piano improvisation leading into that haunting and instantly-recognizable “Josie” intro. A super funky, ready-Freddie, bass-driven “Showbiz Kids.”

They got the Steely Dan T-shirts.

Walter’s tasty licks all over everything! Even the band introductions were amazing with the Brats singing “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” a funky Godfather tune. The last few songs, all well-known hits, had the crowd singing along and dancing in the aisles. Jon Herington’s hard-rockin’ take on “Reelin'” would have made Elliott Randall proud. Dan has never disappointed me, but I was especially thrilled with this performance.

We also attended Sunday night’s show. Our seats weren’t quite as close to the stage. The night was hotter and more humid. Donald commented on it. And the show was a shorter by one tune. The set list was very similar, but there was no “Your Gold Teeth.” Nevertheless, the band was just as tight, and I loved it just the same. I did get to hear “Deacon Blues”! And it was appropriate that the Sunday night service touched on the most important of the Old Testament themes:

This brother is free
I’ll be what I want to be

shufflediplomacy copy


Saturday’s set list

Dizzy’s Bidness (intro, band only)
Your Gold Teeth
Aja
Black Friday
Hey 19
Green Earrings
Time Out of Mind
Black Cow
Showbiz Kids
Bodhisattva
Babylon Sisters
Godwhacker
Home at Last
Dirty Work (The Embassy Brats feat. Catherine Russell)
Papa Don’t Take No Mess & band intros (Brats & Walter)
Josie (extended piano intro, Jim Beard)
Peg
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years
Kid Charlemagne (encore)
Last Tango in Paris (outro, band only)


Sunday’s set list

Dizzy’s Bidness (intro, band only)
Aja
Black Friday
Hey 19
Black Cow
Time Out of Mind
Showbiz Kids
Bodhisattva
Deacon Blues
Godwhacker
Dirty Work (The Embassy Brats feat. Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery)
Papa Don’t Take No Mess & band intros (Brats & Walter)
Do It Again
Josie (extended piano intro, Jim Beard)
Peg
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years
Kid Charlemagne (encore)
Last Tango in Paris (outro, band only)


The Band

Jon Herington – guitar
Walt Weiskopf – alto sax
Roger Rosenberg – baritone sax
Michael Leonhart – trumpet
Jim Pugh – trombone
Keith Carlock – drums
Freddie Washington – bass
Jim Beard – keys
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery – vocals
Cindy Mizelle – vocals
Catherine Russell – vocals
Donald Fagen – vocals, keys
Walter Becker – guitar

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