Steely Dan is known for high-quality composition, intellectual lyrics, and songs that contain multiple layers of meaning. Yet, while on SPAC’s stage on Sunday, Aug. 31 their performance was quite simple. No fancy props, no flashy clothes, no crazy antics. The complexity of their music compared to the simple performance on stage was ironic.
The irony of Steely Dan seems to be a common theme. Even their name is ironic. Those who don’t know the band might assume it is named for one person whom perhaps either has a “steely voice” or who makes the guitar screech like grinding steel. But Steely Dan is not named for one person – they are named for an adult toy that was the subject of the novel, The Naked Lunch and the band’s name definitely does not describe how they operate on stage.
Their performance does not focus on one person; in fact, it’s not even really focused on the two men (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) who founded the band in the 1960s while attending Bard College. All 13 musicians on stage had an opportunity to show off their incredible talent. The keyboardist, guitarists, and backup singers were all given ample time to display their gifts. All four horn players had solos, and even had a chance to step to the front of the stage to highlight their life’s work. The drummer had multiple times to shine, and in fact, lights were arranged behind and underneath him to further emphasize his explosive talent.
Fagen and Becker, who are of course, the glue that holds Steely Dan together, were the guys who drew thousands of fans to Saratoga Springs. Both are brilliant musicians. Fagen was working with malfunctioning equipment; the G above middle C on his keyboard was not working, but, as he told the crowd, he worked around it. Becker’s stories, which started out in a conversational tone, but following tangent after tangent, ended up fitting into the music that the band was building up behind him.
Fans who came to hear their Steely Dan favorites were not disappointed. The 1970s hits, such as “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number,” “My Old School,” and “Reelin’ In the Years” were performed with absolute mastery.
Cubano Chant (orchestra) , Black Cow, Aja, Hey Nineteen, Black Friday, Show Biz Kids, Time Out of Mind, Two Against Nature, Dirty Work, Bodhisattva, I Want To (Do Everything for You), Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More, Babylon Sisters, Reelin’ In The Years, Josie, Peg, My Old School, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Kid Charlemagne, The Untouchables