To people who know me and readers of the blog, it won’t come as a big surprise that Steely Dan is one of my all-time favorite bands. The amazing writing and craftsmanship of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker created timeless music that is simply in a league of its own. While unfortunately I never got a chance to catch one of their shows, I probably came as closely to it as possible last night at the Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, N.J. with The Royal Scam. It was actually the second time I saw this outstanding Steely Dan tribute band.
Named after Steely Dan’s fifth studio album from 1976, The Royal Scam have been faithfully playing the music of Fagen and Becker for 25 years. Lead vocalist Michael Caputo, who does a beautiful job of capturing Fagen’s smooth voice, told the audience they spent the first year with rehearsals before going on the road. This careful prep and the band’s long-time live experience clearly showed. Their attention to the details of the music was incredible, a true labor of love. Another Steely Dan fan who was sitting close to me and has actually seen them put it this way: “They are spot on.” I couldn’t have said it better!
The intimate setting of the Trumpets Jazz Club was a perfect venue to enjoy the music of Steely Dan up close, and there was plenty of it. Between two sets, each lasting more than 90 minutes, The Royal Scam played a great mix of Steely Dan classics like Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Reelin’ In the Years, Hey Nineteen and Deacon Blues, and some deeper cuts I wasn’t as familiar with.
Since smartphone videos oftentimes have mediocre sound quality, I didn’t try to take any footage last night. Fortunately, there are some nice clips of the band on YouTube. Following is a selection.
First up: A cool medley of My Old School and Reelin’ In the Years, from Steely Dan’s second and first studio albums Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) and Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972), respectively. Watching this makes me want to see these guys again right away!
Hey Nineteen, from 1978’s Gaucho album. It appears this clip was captured during the same gig a few months ago in Linden, N.J., where I saw The Royal Scam of the first time.
Here’s another tune from the same concert: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from Pretzel Logic (1974), which became Steely Dan’s biggest hit climbing all the way to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1974.
Kid Charlemagne, which is from Steely Dan’s fifth studio album from 1976, after which the tribute band is named. The guys do a beautiful job capturing the tune’s cool blend of funk, jazz and rock.
Dr. Wu from Katy Lied, the fourth study album Steely Dan released in 1975. It was the first record after Becker and Fagen had dissolved their standing touring band. In the studio, they already had started to increasingly rely on session musicians, a concept they would now also embrace for live performances.
This list would not be complete without Deacon Blues, which is perhaps the ultimate Steely Dan tune from Aja, their fantastic studio album from 1977. It was evident The Royal Scam dig that record just as much as I do. They played it in its entirety, sprinkling the tunes throughout the show.
In addition to Caputo, the band’s current line-up consists of Gino Amato (keyboards and synth programming), Don Regan (guitar), Keith Droz (drums), Larry Chavana (bass), Joe Montini (saxophone) and vocalists Carla Culkin and Wendi Gordy. The Royal Scam will be back at Trumpets on March 10, 2018. Their schedule of upcoming shows is here on the band’s website, along with news and other info.
After they had played their final song of the night, Do It Again, Caputo thanked folks for coming out and supporting live music. He rightly pointed out that nowadays there are fewer and fewer places like Trumpets where people can enjoy great music up close. While I’ve been to many music events, typically, they haven’t been in an intimate setting. Last night was a great reminder that the music club experience is something that should be cherished.
Sources: Wikipedia, The Royal Scam website, YouTube