ALPHARETTA, Ga. – On a breezy summer night Sept. 7 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park in Alpharetta, Steely Dan parked its convertible long enough “to play hot and heavy” (in the words of guitarist Walter Becker) for their devoted, if somewhat aged, fans. Even those who never had 8 tracks in their homes or cars enjoyed the rock show that opened with the seven songs from the band’s 1977 album “Aja.”
Though some of the vocal high notes belonged to a few decades past, their passion and musicianship carried the evening. A fantastic, four-man horn section along with killer drums, jazzy piano, rippin’ guitars and the smooth background vocals and percussion of “The Borderline Brats” accompanied Donald Fagan and Becker for a great and memorable performance.
I told someone the next day at church that the audience was engaged, but mellow – hardly a standing listener or dancer all evening. My friend’s response: “Well that’s no surprise. Steely Dan was mellow 40 years ago.”
True. Mellow, but moving. Laid back, but with appreciation as drums, horns and guitar solos were shredded before our very eyes. Thank God for music born before the age of video! As Fagan led us through the evening with their classics, feet bounced, hands tapped on knees, smiles lit up faces and there was a lot of lip-syncing going on under the steel-spanned, open-air arena.
Knowing that “the weekend at the college (still) didn’t turn out like you planned” and that they would close the evening by asking “are you reeling in the years,” the crowd was sent away with a surprising take-home gift – an encore of “Kid Charlemagne” that my 16-year-old repeated on the way home and into the next day. He wore his concert T-shirt to his suburban high school on Monday fetching only one comment. Sad.
“Dad, they just don’t know,” he said, very much in-the-know.
I should never have thrown away my 8 track of “Countdown to Ecstasy.” Thankfully, I still have “Aja” and “Can’t Buy a Thrill” on vinyl that I purchased in college. A few years ago, my other son picked up “Pretzel Logic” at an Alpharetta yard sale and I have it framed and hanging on my wall next to “Boston” and “Sgt. Pepper.” If you have “Royal Scam” on vinyl, call me. I’ll pay $25 for it; maybe $40 if it’s on an 8 track.
Ringo mastered the drums, Neil Young the harmonica, Billy Preston the organ and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust played guitar. Thanks to the Mood Swings tour that rolled into town last week, a bunch of us in the ATL can say without a doubt that Steely Dan has indeed “learned to work the saxophone.”