Steely Dan And The Doobie Brothers End Double Headliner Tour On High Notes

Both bands deliver powerful sets at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center

Advertisements

The Summer Of Living Dangerously was supposed to have wrapped up on Saturday in Bethel, N.Y. Instead, Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers brought their double-headlining tour to a close yesterday at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. – and what a glorious night it was for both bands!

Initially, the show had been scheduled for July 6. But due to an illness of one of the musicians, the gig had been postponed on short notice. Luckily, it didn’t get cancelled altogether. After all, as The Doobies’ Tom Johnston put it, this was the end of “a long and draining tour” with Steely Dan. But while more than 30 dates crammed in just three months must have been exhausting, you surely didn’t notice any of the musicians were worn out. On the contrary, at times, it seemed they were playing as if it was their last gig ever!

The Summer Of Living Dangerously

As I usually do leading up to concerts, I checked YouTube for recent performances, setlist.fm and online reviews to get a better feeling what to expect. In this case, I noticed the reviews were consistently great for The Doobies but more on the mixed side for Steely Dan. Some reviewers were disappointed that unlike the southern rockers, Donald Fagen left out Dan gems like Deacon Blues and Do It Again. Others noted Fagen’s voice sounded challenged, especially on the high notes. YouTube clips I had watched prior to the show seemed to confirm some of what the above reviews noted.

Based on the above, I had definitely adjusted my expectations – after all, who wants to be disappointed! As such, I was anticipating a solid set from The Doobies and more of a mixed bag from Donald Fagen/Steely Dan. What I feel I got instead were kick-ass performances from each! While Fagen’s vocal performance may have varied during some of the tour’s previous shows, I thought he was in great shape last night! Maybe it helped that the boy from Passaic, N.J. was home at last, as he acknowledged at some point. Fagen also showed signs that he enjoyed himself – something I understand he’s not particularly known for!

The Doobie Brothers.jpg
Current lineup of The Doobie Brothers (left to right): John Cowan (bass, vocals), Patrick Simmons (guitars, vocals, co-founder), Ed Tooth (drums), Marc Russo (saxophone), Tom Johnston (guitars, vocals, co-founder), John McFee (guitars, pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, vocals, core member since 1979) and Bill Payne (keyboards; not in photo)

The Doobies kicked off the great night. From the very first bars of Natural Thing to the last note of the second encore Listen To The Music, these guys sounded as terrific as they did the first time I saw them some 20 years ago: the harmony singing, the dynamic of the music – everything was still there, and it all still sounded fresh – pretty amazing! What more could you possibly ask for?

Time for some clips. I decided to capture and use my own video material. This comes with all the caveats you have, recording with a smartphone that isn’t latest generation and when you’re not exactly sitting in the first row. But at least it’s authentic!:-)

First up: Rockin’ Down The Highway. Penned by Johnston, this great rocker appeared on Toulouse Street, The Doobies’ second studio album from July 1972 and their commercial breakthrough.

Another classic from Toulouse Street is Jesus Is Just Alright. For some reason, I had always thought of it as an original Doobies tune – I was wrong. According to Wikipedia, the song, a gospel tune, was written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by his band The Art Reynolds Singers for their 1966 studio album Tellin’ It Like It is. Who knew.

In general, I’m more drawn to the early phase of The Doobies – basically, their first five studio records. One of the exceptions is Cycles, the band’s 10th studio album from May 1989, the first record following their reunion after the 1982 break-up. One of the tunes from Cycles I dig is the opener The Doctor, a co-write by Johnston and the record’s co-producers Charlie Midnight and Eddie Schwartz. Last night, the nice honky-tonk piano by Bill Payne and Johnston’s guitar work stood out to me. It’s just a seductive tune overall that’s very reminiscent of the early Doobies.

Another classic by the southern rockers is Long Train Runnin’. Written by Johnston, the tune was included on the band’s third studio album The Captain And Me, released in March 1973. I’ve always dug the combination of funk and rock in this song. This is also a great track to call out killer saxophonist Marc Russo. The guy must have been blowing out his lungs! Long Train Runnin’ was the last track of the band’s regular set, so I guess that’s the reason why they extended it. It meant more great sax playing. The audience certainly loved it!

And while I could keep on raving about southern rockers, I also need to get to Fagen & Co., so I’m going to wrap up The Doobies’ section with an additional gem from The Captain And Me: China Grove, yet another Johnston composition and the first encore. If you’re curious what else they played, you can check here.

After such a dynamic set from The Doobies, the bar certainly had been set high for Steely Dan. Of course, Fagen and his former partner Walter Becker have been known for playing with top-notch musicians, so I hadn’t had any real concerns the band somehow wouldn’t be up to par. It was mostly Fagen I had wondered about. But as noted at the outset, he had a great night, so I really couldn’t have been more happy!

Steely Dan Collage
Current lineup of Steely Dan: Upper row (left to right): Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax) and Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax). Lower row (left to right): Jim Pugh (trombone), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and The Danettes La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell & Carolyn Leonhart. Far right: Donald Fagen

Following a set-opening jazz instrumental performed by just the band (see lineup in caption of above photo collage I put together), during which the musicians immediately took the opportunity to shine, Fagen entered the stage. In a deviation from previous set lists I had seen, they played Black Cow, the opener from Dan’s masterpiece Aja. Apparently, it was swapped with Josie, which during earlier gigs had been included later in the set. Here’s my clip.

Next up: Black Friday from Katy Lied, Steely Dan’s fourth studio album that appeared in March 1975. The record was the first after the break-up of the band’s original five-piece lineup. At that time, Fagen and Becker had decided to stop touring and become a studio band. Additionally, they increasingly were relying on top-notch session musicians for their recordings. Among the latter were guitarist Rick Derringer, drummer Jeff Porcaro and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), who BTW just a month after the record’s release joined The Doobie Brothers.

While as previously noted Fagen & co.  didn’t play Do It Again, one of my favorite early Dan tunes, they performed Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, another early gem I dig. It appeared on Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic from February 1974. Also released separately as the record’s first single in April that year, it became their biggest hit, climbing all the way to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Steely Dan didn’t skip Can’t Buy A Thrill altogether. In fact, they played two tunes from their studio debut released in November 1972. One was Dirty Work, which prominently featured the band’s excellent backing vocalists La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell and Carolyn Leonhart, a.k.a. The Danettes.

The last tune of the regular set was My Old School from Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown To Ecstasy, which came out in July 1973. Like predecessor Bodhisattva, it featured Connor Kennedy, a young guitar virtuoso hailing from Woodstock, N.Y., who had toured with Fagen last year as part of a band called The Nightflyers.

The amazing Reelin’ In The Years, the second tune from Can’t Buy A Thrill, was the first encore and the last Dan tune of the night. To see what other songs they played you can check here. Reelin’ In The Years also included Kennedy who traded guitar licks with Jon Herington. Unfortunately, while I was recording this great performance, Facebook cheerfully informed me that something had gone wrong and that my live video had stopped – bummer! But with close to 4 minutes, at least I captured a good chunk of it, so decided it was worthwhile keeping and including the clip in this post. Plus, Fagen’s outgoing “yah!” that precedes the performance is kind of cool!

Based on what I experienced last night, I can highly recommend the show, except of course that particular tour is now over. But looking at their schedules, each band already has additional dates on the calendar for this year. The Doobies resume performing in San Francisco on September 20 together with the Eagles – that should be fun! There are also dates in San Diego; Clearwater, Fla., Greensburg, Pa.; and two special shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre in mid-November, where they will perform the albums Toulouse Street and The Captain And Me in their entirety, along with other songs.

Steely Dan has 18 additional dates on the schedule starting October 1, including a nine-gig residency at the Beacon Theatre, beginning October 17. Like The Doobies, these are special performances dedicated to select Dan albums, including The Royal Scam (May 1976), Aja, Countdown to Ecstasy and Gaucho (November 1980). There are also shows focusing on Fagen’s first solo album The Nightfly (October 1982), a gig billed as “greatest hits,” as well as an on-demand concert, based on fan voting.

I have to say, Dan’s Aja performance sounds really tempting, especialy since they left out Deacon Blues and Josie last night. Plus. I’ve never been to the Beacon Theatre, a venue where The Allman Brothers used to perform, making it something like “holy ground.” You see what I did here? Trying to rationale spending additional money on yet another concert. We shall see!

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Doobie Brothers official website, Steely Dan official website, YouTube

20 thoughts on “Steely Dan And The Doobie Brothers End Double Headliner Tour On High Notes”

  1. Great review, great website. As to the average Doobie Brothers review on Youtube, yes, these tend to be all praise. Rightly so, imo. What’s more, DB deepcuts are among the most interesting of any band. Too bad joint gigs usually results in a shorter setlist. Especially the quasi standard encore song Without You (the one preceding the band ‘hymn’ Listen to the Music) sets the stage (and hall) on fire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZzNUjQRAwY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heFYYmrd620.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad your concert was a good one! I don’t know how you keep this summer concert schedule going! You’ve seen some good ones. I wouldn’t mind seeing Steely Dan- I don’t think they are coming around here- and I haven’t been to a concert now since U2 in July of last year…. what is next? Living in the area you do I imagine every tour comes your way- or at least within a decent enough drive…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s certainly been a great ride thus far. I’m currently on a six-week sabbatical from my job, so that helps. And, yes, the New York/New Jersey area is a goldmine when it comes to concerts. Frankly, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

      Given ticket prices for most shows, I keep telling to slow down, until I spot the next tempting concert. Speaking of which, last night I got a ticket for one of the Aja shows at the Beacon in October. It appeared many seats already had been sold – probably safe to assume that resellers already did their lousy thing here – and I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

      A dear friend of mine from Germany rightly predicted my recent Dan gig would be great, saying if Fagen no longer cut it, he’d quit – given how perfectionist he and Becker had been, I think he’s probably right!

      I don’t have any bigger paid concerts lined up for the near future. However, summer is the season where you can find plenty of free concert-in-the-park type of events, at least in my area. And it’s not only nice tribute or cover bands. Sometimes you get terrific original music.

      For example, last night I saw an Americana rock band called Cordovas. Have you ever heard of them?

      On their Facebook page and website, this five-piece band from Nashville indicate some of their musical influences include the early Grateful Dead, Little Feat and the Allman Brothers. With their triple vocal harmonies and double lead guitar licks, I could definitely hear traces from these others bands. I would also add CSNY and The Band. I’m probably going to write about these guys.

      Tonight, I’m planning to see a great CSNY tribute band called CSN Songs. A friend, who also is the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band called Decade, recently joined them. Tonight is his first gig with the band – should be fun!

      As you can see, even without paid concerts, I still keep busy going to live music events. I guess, at times, I’m testing the patience of my dear wife and son, who are both not much into music – at least not to the degree I am! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t heard of Cordovas- you must have liked them. Sounds interesting. I see you have some time- I was starting to wonder if you ever got any sleep!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I listened to some of the clips. Sounds like a great show. I like Doobies, love Dan so I would have been happy? But why the quibbling about ‘Deacon Blues’ or ‘Do it Again?’ No band can do every song in their catalog every night. I always want to hear Springsteen do ‘Rosalita’ or the Allmans do ‘Whipping Post.’ If they didn’t, oh well. Plenty of other good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess you’re right. When you have a band like Dan with a sizable catalog, they cannot play everything. It’s just that I really dig “Deacon Blues.” To me a comparable situation would have been to see Skynyrd and them not playing “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Free Bird.” Last but not least, I will likely get my wish and see Fagen & co perform Deacon Blues. I decided to get a ticket for one of the “Aja” shows at the Beacon in October!

      Like

      1. True, but those are signature songs. ‘Deacon Blues’ is a great number but I don’t know that it’s signature. Not sure if they have one, come to think of it. For me, if the Dan didn’t play ‘Kid Charlemagne’ that’s maybe how I’d feel.

        But at least with the AJA show your expectations are more in line. We may have discussed this but my wife and I saw Stevie Wonder a couple of years ago touring behind the ‘Keys of Life’ album. And some woman was disappointed that he didn’t do ‘Ma Cherie Amour.’ It’s not on the album! But I guess musicians disappoint some fans at every show. There’s no getting around it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I guess what’s a signature song is a bit in the eye of the beholder.:-) Perhaps Fagen agrees with you – they did play “Kid Charlemagne.” You’re right it’s impossible for artists to make all of their fans happy.

        I really dig Stevie Wonder and would have liked to see him in Atlantic City earlier this year during his short summer tour. But unfortunately ticket prices were really a deterrent, even for a nutcase like me!

        Like

      3. Hmmm. Interesting thought. If you had asked Becker/Fagen what their signature song is – as opposed to what we like – I wonder what they’d say. I’d pick two, an early one and a late one. Early would be ‘Reelin’ in the Years,’ late maybe ‘Aja.’ But pure speculation on my part.

        Maybe there’s a Stevie Wonder tribute band. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ha, believe or not, I do happen to know a guy who has put together a new band, and they are going to cover some of his songs, though they are not a dedicated Stevie Wonder tribute band – but at least it’s something! 🙂

        Fagen & co’s set included “Reelin’ In The Years” and “Aja,” and both are among my favorite Dan tunes. So I guess you are right I probably shouldn’t have whined about “Deacon Blues.”

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s