Steely Dan

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Donald Fagen of Steely Dan (by
Raph_PH via Flickr)

Steely Dan
The Beacon Theatre
October 17, 2018
Review by David Chiu

Even when I purchased a ticket to see one of Steely Dan’s shows during the group’s long residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre for this month, I was still a bit skeptical if I made the right decision. After all, the death of co-founder Walter Becker last year created a huge void, leaving Donald Fagen the only surviving original member of the group. So was it worth carrying on the name and legacy if one of band’s key members is no longer alive, and that Steely Dan now really was in effect a Fagen solo project all but in name.

Fortunately, I was wrong when I caught Fagen and company at the start of the Beacon residency when they performed the band’s excellent 1976 album The Royal Scam—which represented the bridge between the group’s early rock phase from the first albums and its more jazzy East Coast sound heard on the latter albums—in its entirety. From the very start with the opener “Kid Charlemagne,” Steely Dan sounded letter-perfect all the way through, faithfully recreating the sound of that record with some minor variations in the arrangements (for instance, Fagen didn’t sing lead on “The Fez” but rather left that up to the backing singers). Fagen still had that very sardonic and raspy edge in his vocals during renditions of “The Royal Scam,” “Everything You Did,” and “Sign in Stranger.” For fans of The Royal Scam, it was a wonderful feeling to hear both the well-known and obscure tracks performed live from start to finish.

Following the completion of the record, the Dan continued on playing a well-rounded set of the hits that at times swung harder than the very-polished and painstakingly-crafted studio incarnations: among them were “Hey Nineteen” (the audience cheered when Fagen sang the line that referenced the Queen of Soul, Aretha Frankin), “Josie” and “My Old School.” The encore was a very rocking version of “Reelin’ in the Years,” ending the proceedings on a very satisfying note.

In addition to Fagen (who at one point during some stage banter humorously wondered what today was and then said Fuck Wednesdays!), the rest of the large band sounded great, particularly the contributions by longtime guitarist Jon Herington (whose stinging guitar lines convincingly echoed that of Becker’s and other Dan guitar alumni) and drummer Keith Carlock, who brought a muscular groove to a lot of the songs. For those like myself who perhaps has initial doubts about Steely Dan carrying on without a sorely missed member, such fears were assuaged–so long as Fagen is at the helm.

Set list:

The Royal Scam

Kid Charlemagne

The Caves of Altamira

Don’t Take Me Alive

Sign in Stranger

The Fez

Green Earrings

Haitian Divorce

Everything You Did

The Royal Scam

Bodhisattva

Hey Nineteen

Peg

Time Out of Mind

Keep That Same Old Feeling

(The Crusaders cover) (with band introductions)

Josie

My Old School

Encore:

Reelin’ in the Years

A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry

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