I was in high school the first time someone asked me to name my favourite band. and I had to think about it for a while before I decided it was Steely Dan. They set themselves apart from others making good music because I enjoyed all of their songs and because they played a variety of music and because their style of combining jazz arrangements over pop melodies was so different from what other artists of the last 1970s were doing. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen established themselves as one of the great songwriting pairs in pop music history and always surrounded themselves with top-notch studio musicians.
Decades later, Steely Dan remains one of my favourites; but, remarkably, I've never seen them perform live. That changed last night when I caught their performance at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion in Chicago. They did not disappoint.
Steve Winwood warmed up - another artist I've always enjoyed, but never saw perform live. Winwood had a successful solo career in the 1980s and he performed the popular "Higher Love" from this era; but most of the performance was taken from his earlier bands, such as Traffic and Blind Faith. He closed with a rocking performance of "Gimme Some Lovin’", a song he wrote and recorded for the Spencer Davis Group in 1966 at the age of 18.
Steely Dan hit the stage on a muggy night as the sun set and a breeze thankfully blew off nearby Lake Michigan. Steely Dan's core remains singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker.
Fagen was the leader on stage, introducing most songs and singing lead. Becker is a great songwriter, but had little stage presence (although he did sing lead on "Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More". But these limitations are easily ignored when one surrounds oneself with an excellent set of musicians.
And Becker and Fagen brought with them an excellent band which they referred to as "The Steely Dan Orchestra". The two highlights of this orchestra were drummer Keith Carlock and lead guitarist Jon Herington, both of whom have traveled with Becker and Fagen for over a decade.
The 3 female backing vocalist provided depth to most songs and sang lead on "Dirty Work", a song originally sung by David Palmer before Fagen took over all lead vocals.
I loved the live arrangements of their songs. Most did not stray far from the excellent studio arrangements that made Steely Dan famous in the first place, but they toyed with some songs, including a slow jam version of "Josie".
Seeing Steely Dan after all these decades of listening to their music was like meeting an old friend after a long absence - Familiar yet somehow new.
I fell in love with them at My Old School and now they had me reeling in my years.