• Philip Bryer

All Graphite & Glitter


Several months ago:

Me (browsing on tablet): Don’t suppose you want to go and see Steely Dan at The Historic Beacon Theatre while we’re in New York in October, do you?

Mrs B: Not really.

Me: OK, Ticketmaster, just the one then, please.

Just last week (which, in the manner of the weeks these days, came around quite quickly):

I’m in The Owl's Tail a friendly and – in the best sense - homely bar on the Upper West Side, getting on the outside of a small Chenin Blanc and awaiting not so much showtime as, first things first, doors time. Excitement level raised to critical.

After the security checks – including airport-style scanners – I’m inside. Avoiding, as is traditional since 1975, the merchandise stall, I source another small beverage (you are no doubt picking up on the low-volume-of-fluids strategy) lean on a convenient countertop and cast an impressed eye over the exquisite décor.

A chap sidles up and slips in some guarded small talk. It soon transpires we are both here alone because our respective missuses declined the invitation and so the small talk opens up a little. He’s come up on the train from Boston and was here for the Greatest Hits show several nights before (tonight is The Nightfly plus a few from the luxury selection box). He tells me good things about his previous show, and also tips me off that Steely Dan don’t take the stage at 8PM. A jazz trio have that honour. Apparently this was the source of some chagrin and a stampede to the bar on Greatest Hits night. However, I am here at The Historic Beacon Theatre for perhaps the only time in my life, so I’m not going to miss a moment of anything, and anyway, if Donald Fagen’s watching from the wings I’m sure me and the other diehard jazzers will have his instant approval, and maybe an invitation to the aftershow drinks party too. (We didn’t.)

I expected the precision of Steely Dan, the technical prowess, the groove, the swing. More of a surprise was the power. Bass player Freddie Washington (described in the group intros as ‘the heartbeat of the band’) and crackerjack drummer Keith Carlock who drove the whole thing along with a relentless attack, attack, attack.

They played The Nightfly album in full, had a breather, and went into Bodhisattva.

“Oh, they played Bodhisattva, did they?”

“No, they PLAYED it. They unwrapped it for us like a gift. They picked it up and raised it higher and higher, and took it, and the audience, to another place.”

I won’t bore on about the setlist – it’s at the end of this piece, for those who are interested in such things.

Michael McDonald came out for the end and the encores, as did a third guitarist (who I think I gathered is on a late night New York TV show). Always remember, 3 guitarists is at least 1 too many. In some groups 1 guitarist is 1 too many. I won’t mention the group I’m thinking of but a film has just come out about their singer who is no longer with us. Clue: If you said Freddie Garrity you’d be half-right.

There was a welcome absence of noodling, this was tight, professional, and, above all, fun. As Fagen cried out during The Goodbye Look, “Pour me a Cuban Breeze, Walter!”

As the audience danced to Pretzel Logic (yes, really) I had this thought. When you hear an artist announce that, ‘London audiences are the best in the world’, or Paris, or insert name of any place other than New York here, they either haven’t played New York, or they’re lying.

Setlist:

I.G.Y.

Green Flower Street

Ruby Baby

Maxine

New Frontier

The Nightfly

The Goodbye Look

Walk Between Raindrops

Hallelujah Time

Bodhisattva

Hey Nineteen

Time Out of Mind

Dirty Work

Black Cow

Keep That Same Old Feeling

(The Crusaders cover)

My Old School

(with Michael McDonald)

Peg

(with Michael McDonald)

Encore:

Reelin' in the Years

(with Michael McDonald)

Pretzel Logic

(with Michael McDonald)

A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry

(Joe Williams cover)

#SteelyDan #BeaconTheatre #NewYork #OwlsTail #TheNightfly #DonaldFagen #FreddieWashington #KeithCarlock #MichaelMcDonald #Bodhisattva #CubanBreeze #PretzelLogic

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