On Sunday a bunch of us went down to the O2 for a bit of 70s soft rock nostalgia: Steely Dan, supported by the Doobie Brothers.
The Doobie Brothers? Yes, the Doobie Brothers. Not sure they got a mention in my book, but a few of their songs are etched in the memory: “China Grove”, “Long Train Running” and, of course, “Listen to the Music”. They were a real Bob Harris favourite on the Old Grey Whistle Test, if I recall. On those grounds alone, I would have turned against them once punk came to the fore!
Anyway, they were pretty good on Sunday. Very slick, in good voice, ace guitars and some impressive hair. And a handle bar moustache that was a true monument to 70s California. They played all the classic tunes, with the aforementioned three taking pride of place at the end. “Listen to the Music” was a joyous singalong. Put us all in a good frame of mind for the Dan.
Steely Dan, of course, is now just Donald Fagen and assembled musicians, after the passing away of Walter Becker this year. There were no fulsome tributes, just an acknowledgement from Donald that he just had to carry on. I guess the real tribute is the enduring legacy of the music, some of the best around.
The set was great of course. It featured the later 70s pretty heavily, when Steely Dan got jazzier and funkier. There were four songs from “Aja”, which may just be my favourite Dan album of all. “Black Cow” was second up, after a rousing “Bodhisattva” opened proceedings. I did love the rendition of “Aja” itself, with that laid back, wistful groove and some sparkling saxophone. And the upbeat “Peg” and “Josie” towards the end went down really well. Other highlights for me were “Kid Charlemagne” and, just because it’s a bit sentimental for me, “Dirty Work”. The three backing singers each took a turn at the verses, all in their different, expressive styles; but the reason that song has a special place in my heart is that my kids used to sing along to it in the back of the car when they were little and one of my girls used to call it “Daddy Work”. Happy days!
The guitarist, John Harrington, deserves a special mention. He took on all the guitar duties – they often had two, I think – and was really excellent. Subtle where subtlety was needed, and capable of rocking out too. For those who love the rockier side of Steely Dan, and some sharp solos, two from the first album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill” were standouts. A lot of my friends think “My Old School” is the best Steely Dan song of all, and the guitar work the most intricate. John Harrington was pretty awesome on that. And “Reeling in the Years” was perfect for the encore.
There were a few quibbles with sound mix from where we were sitting (fairly high up in the O2). Some of the vocals got a bit lost, and even the guitar at times. But the sheer quality of the songs and the band won through. Everyone could name a whole load of songs they wished had been played, given the brilliant back catalogue; but really, there wasn’t much to complain about. This was a superb concert by one of the greatest bands.
Like I said in my book, if in doubt put on the Dan… it always makes sense.