Saturday, July 30, 2011

Steely Dan, Shuffle Diplomacy Tour, July 29, 2011

My wife and I went to the Steely Dan concert last night at the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods.  As always they deliver.  Steely Dan, yes I do know where their name comes from, has been on the music scene since the sixties.  Walter Becker and Donald Fagin met at Bard College.  When they graduated they moved to New York City to peddle their songs.  They even toured with Jay and The Americans.  Can’t Buy A Thrill was their first album produced under the Steely Dan name. David Palmer, Jim Hodder, Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter formed the rest of the Band.  David Palmer was the vocalist on Dirty Work.  Google Jeff “Skunk” Baxter for an interesting history on this legendary musician.

This is my fourth time seeing them and they didn’t disappoint.  They are touring with a fantastic musical ensemble. The Shuffle Diplomacy tour includes the jazzy chops of the Miles High Big Band and the sultry voices of the Embassy Brats.  Here is a link to view the band members. Of special note was Keith Carlock, the drummer.  All night long he was laying down some fantastic licks.  He is a beast! 

The show opens with the rhythm section playing a jazz riff.  The horn section slowly walks in one by one and begin to trade fours.  The house fills up with a delicious jazzy, bluesy sound.  Becker and Fagin walk in and the band breaks into Aja.  They do an extended version of it.  Great opening.  The arrangements are new and give the music a very cool, summery feeling.  What always impressed me about Steely Dan was the complexity and precision of their music.  Every, note, beat, pause and breath has a meaning.  The lyrics are funny, playful, complex and sometimes employ name checking, obscure literary references and unusual patterns as a musical device.  When they play live, the same precision and attention to detail show through. 

Show Business Kids, a favorite of mine, was completely rearranged to give it a very cool swing feel.  Deacon Blue had a lush, rich, dense layer of harmony and sound.

Dirty Work, originally sung by David Palmer was deftly handled by the singing voices of the Embassy Brats. Aside from being gorgeous these ladies could sing.  They cleverly traded verses and joined together at the chorus.  

For Papa Don’t Take No Mess, a James Brown hit, each member showcased his or her talent.  Especially notable was Michael Leonhart on trumpet.  Leonhart, is the youngest person to ever win a Grammy. Keith Carlock had me on my feet during Reelin’ in the Years.  He was laying down a very complicated shuffle groove featuring a ton of ghost notes and pulling a few licks from the late Jeff Porcaro’s Rosanna Shuffle. As a drummer myself, I was in awe!

The encore was Kid Charlemagne, which kept the crowd on their feet. 

Next time they come to town, check them out.  I know I will. Yes, I do have the Steely Dan t-shirt!

Set List


Black Friday

Hey Nineteen

Black Cow

Time Out of My Mind

Show Business Kids


Deacon Blue

Dirty work

Papa Don’t Take No Mess

Home At last



My Old School

Reelin’ in the Years

Encore-- Kid Charlemagne

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