Two dozen men snaked out of the bathroom line at the Beacon Theater Tuesday night, most swigging plastic 16-ounce beers. The women's side, however, was completely empty. "This is a Steely Dan concert for sure," one man noted, "19 men for every woman." Our knowledge of Steely Dan was limited to hearing parents belt out "Peg" at weddings and the fact that the band is named after a sex toy. Urged by a certain editor who claimed we were making a "big mistake" if we missed it, we caught Steely Dan's performance of their 1976 album The Royal Scam, with completely open ears to unlock the mystery of The Dan and their many, many dudes.
Uncle Mitch: As soon as the band kicked into "Kid Charlemagne," you could feel the electricity fill up the theater. That song in particular is so complex, but every chord, every key change was perfect. People weren't there to see Steely Dan play songs, they were there to see these guys play Steely Dan. It's bigger than whoever happens to be on stage.
Steely Don't: Complexity is great but this was overdone, the sonic equivalent of foie gras donuts. By the end I was becoming allergic to saxophone solos, and are you sure that was "electricity" or Bud Light?
Uncle Mitch: People were having fun! They paid a princely sum so they had every right to dance and execute the occasional poorly-coordinated fist-pump.
Steely Don't: It was like watching a Land's End catalogue have a seizure.
Uncle Mitch: A Land's End catalogue wouldn't be able to appreciate the dark wit of "Sign In Stranger," or the manic, possessive hysteria of "Everything You Did." Steely Dan is more than a 70s relic—is there a more appropriate song for the times we live in than "The Royal Scam?" Fagen's gravelly voice sounded damningly prescient.
Steely Don't: Fair enough, but don't confuse sterility with perfection. Fagen and Walter Becker may have a vision, but that vision also happens to be slick and over-choreographed. "Aja" had so much going on that it all just sounded like New Age soup. And the hired guns aren't supposed to outshine their masters—Becker's guitar solos were almost embarrassing next to Jon Herington's speedy licks.
Uncle Mitch: I'll give you that some of the new material is cheesy. "Two Against Nature" especially. But songs like "My Old School" or "Don't Take Me Alive" are expertly written, their foundations are sound. Having that backing band made them faithful and enthusiastic versions of the originals.
Steely Don't: Which is really what everyone was looking for: good tunes to stir up old memories before they went home and had their monthly allotment of sex.
Uncle Mitch: These people knew how to party! I smelled pot twice!
Steely Don't: Yeah but did Becker have to make that speech about "Cheeba Cheeba? The Holy Light of Christ pot?"
Uncle Mitch: Well that was in the middle of "Hey 19," a song about trying to lay a teenager, so I feel it was warranted. The band was having fun, the audience was boogying down, what more could you have asked for?
Steely Don't: I don't know that I can answer that, but I will say that the highly distorted, LOUD chord that Becker hit right before each chorus on "Reelin' In The Years" made me thirst for chaos, for noise, for an unguarded moment. For that certain movement in the late 70s that Steely Dan chose to completely ignore.
Uncle Mitch: Oh shut up I saw your leg tapping during "Peg."
Steely Don't: That was the Bud Light. But I give this concert three out of four AARP Membership Cards: an overall success.
Steely Dan will be at The Beacon tonight and tomorrow as part of their seven-night stand. Tickets seem to be available but they ain't cheap.