Last night at Pine Knob (technically the DTE Energy Music Theater, but I try to avoid that terrible corporate name as much as possible), My wife and I saw Steely Dan with opening act Elvis Costello & the Imposters.It was a pairing that would've been unthinkable in the '70s and '80s. Of course, Steely Dan didn't perform live back then, so for that reason alone it wouldn't have happened. But back in those days, the two would have been seen as incompatible: Elvis the jittery, angry pub/punk rocker and Steely Dan the kings of sophisticated (though sardonic and subversive) jazzy pop/rock.
But really, the two have a lot in common: intelligent and often acerbic lyrics, great ears for melody, and catholic musical tastes embracing everything from rock to blues to jazz. I'd say that as the years have gone on, Elvis Costello and the Dan have converged artistically and their fan bases are now comprised of many of the same people--including me.
Now about those fans. They're old geezers, at least the ones at Pine Knob. I don't know how I should feel that I was one of the "kids" at this show, at the youthful age of 47. Practically a teenager compared to most of the other folks at this show.
I'll get back to this post again when I'm not so tired and can go into some detail about Elvis and the Dan's sets. Both were great and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the hot summer night.I'm back now to try and fill in some gaps and elaborate on Elvis and the Dan.
Elvis Costello hit the stage at exactly 7:00 PM. Since Pine Knob has a strict 11:00 curfew, there's no time for musicians to dilly-dally.
I have to admit that, though I'm a fairly big fan of Costello's music (though I haven't paid much attention to anything he's done since Spike in 1989), this was the first time I'd seen him live. That's really almost an embarrassing admission, but I suppose better late than never to finally correct this. The Imposters feature original Attractions members Steve Nieve (keyboards) and Pete Thomas (drums). Guitarist Davey Farragher, according to Elvis' Wiki site, has been playing with Mr. Costello since 2002's When I Was Cruel album (coincidentally one of two post-Spike albums I have in the music collection. That and the Burt Bacharach collaboration that I never listen to, to be perfectly honest).
So, anyway, Elvis and the Imposters hit the stage at 7:00 and bashed out a no-nonsense one-hour set that played pretty much like a greatest hits album: "Accidents Will Happen," "High Fidelity," "Alison," "Watching the Detectives," "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," "Everyday I Write the Book," and closing with a rousing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." The latter is a song that never fails to choke me up with emotion. Yes, I know that Nick Lowe wrote it and not Elvis, but Elvis Costello's version is definitive (much in the same way that Jimi Hendrix's version of the Bob Dylan-penned "All Along the Watchtower" has to be considered definitive).I'll be back later to rehash Steely Dan...
Finally back to discuss Steely Dan. I hope at this point I can remember enough almost two weeks after the fact.
At this point in their careers, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan could be mistaken for a couple of tenured English professors on summer sabbatical. Becker, looking casual in t-shirt and running shoes, started off with a rambling, colorful monologue/rap that had most of the crowd in stitches.
...I'm back again. This has to officially be the most drawn-out blog post I've ever had. I really need to just put this thing to bed. Look, what more can I really say, Steely Dan was excellent and I greatly enjoyed seeing them. No, they don't have dynamic stage presence, but nobody should ever expect that with these guys, particularly now that they are in their late 60s. It's all about the musicianship, and Becker/Fagen along with the rest of Steely Dan (2015 edition) have it in spades. Jon Herington, on lead guitar, played with meticulous precision, and drummer Keith Carlock is an excellent player, and particularly extraordinary on the intricate title tune from Aja. The Dan's touring band also featured a tight three-piece horn section and three honey-voiced back-up singers, who offered the only choreography of the show.
I have not always been a Steely Dan fan. I remember their hits from the late '70s and early '80s and they made little impression on me at the time. It wasn't until a chance encounter, in the early '90s, with "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" played over the PA during a late-night visit to a grocery store that I finally "got it," and fell through the Dan rabbit hole. I've been an addict ever since and it was a joy to finally see these old curmudgeons in concert.