One of Dannye's favourite groups here in NZ. How could I not go?
Steely Dan is a group that Dannye has written an excellent node about. That must mean they are either some sort of republican cheerleader thingie (just egging you on, D.) or they're seriously, seriously gifted musicians. Fortunately the latter applies. I only started to appreciate them after listening to Donald Fagen's The Nightfly and soon found out that Gaucho and Aja were actually not so far off Fagen's solo work. Then in 2000 I saw them in London at a rather uninspired gig at Wembley Arena that confused me terribly, but last night was a momentous occasion: Steely Dan for the first time ever live in New Zealand, they certainly managed to send the (by the way very nice) Vector Arena into happy conniptions. But let's start at the beginning:
The best girlfriend and I had relocated for one weekend to Auckland, and made our way to the Vector Arena around seven, and were surprised by this pleasant urban space (there are not a lot in Auckland, you know): modern, yet simple with a beautiful water feature that Charlie Dimmock herself couldn't fault. Surrounding apartment buildings were unusually stylish for Auckland and punters were civilised and mainly grey (or bald) or brought their kids. An exceedingly happy atmosphere, fueled by a generous amount of horrible Kiwi lager.
Openers World Party showcased a great collection of party leader Karl Wallinger's greatest hits and at the end of the gig had the audience suitably aroused. I for one wouldn't have mind if they would have played on for another hour, and even the best girlfriend ever, who normally doesn't have any opinion on music, made guttural supportive noises. Wallinger had the laughs on his side when, during the opening chords of 'She's the one' (which was covered successfully by the horrible Robbie Williams) mentioned casually:
"I hate to break this to you, but this one's me"
After about 45 minutes of fun with World Party and a short period of general beer getting and toilet going, Becker and Fagen entered the stage to rapturous applause (the best girlfriend ever commenting that the audience greeted Fagen 'like a Pop-star'. Well, how else should they greet him? Like the Queen?) and greeted the audience with a dry 'Hello Kids".
The set-list was heavy on the seventies: Black Cow, Haitian Divorce, Aja, Hey nineteen, Deacon Blues etc oozed beautifully out of the humungous speakers, and by the time 'My old School' was played during the encore the audience was going wild, on their feet, clapping and yelling and egging the band on. Fagen, bewildered by the passion that was clearly palpable, quipped:
'whoa. Some wild Dudes out there'
And so it ended. Highlights were Keith Carlock, the amazing drummer they brought along. A bloke that looked more like a rugby player behind his small, modest drum set (Hi-hat, Snare, 3 tom toms and two crash cymbals) but unleashed an unforgettable, manic energy. You could already tell during the initial songs with the vigor his left foot attacked the hi-hat that this guy meant business. His solos were out of this world, and if the DVD to this tour is ever released, I'd probably by it just for the drummer.
One big omission: their excellent bass player Freddie Washington could just as well have stayed at home: due to some unfortunate acoustic setup his bass was not perceived at all, and if just as some low frequency rumbling. Shame.
Nevertheless, thanks to Becker, Fagen and Wallinger the best 3 hours I had in a long long time.