Sunday 22 April 2018

Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers at 3Arena for BluesFest 2017 review: 'If I could see them again tomorrow night I wouldn’t hesitate – put these bands on your bucket list!'

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Donald Fagen performs of Steely Dan onstage at Beacon Theatre on October 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Donald Fagen performs of Steely Dan onstage at Beacon Theatre on October 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

The mere stage set up of Steely Dan last night at 3 Arena had the sophistication of a New York jazz club. Rarely have I sat at a concert and relaxed into the zone. On one side, a formidable brass section holds sway, on the other, The Danettes – superb – swing, and sing back-up to the man at centre stage. The Real Donald. Fagen, that is. I feared, that at the age of 67 his voice might be a bit croaky or the evening would lack the distinctive voice of the late Walter Becker.

Frankly, Fagen’s voice couldn’t have been better. He gave it his all for two solid hours. At the opening chords of “I don’t want to do your dirty work,” the audience took off. The classic hits from “Can’t buy a Thrill”, “Aja”, “Pretzel Logic”, took me back to days when we thought we had top technology – a Pioneer car stereo and a box of cassettes.

Steely Dan might have been a popular band in certain quarters, decades ago, but they were never ‘pop’. A secret of their appeal was revealed to me last night - the predominantly male audience, no joke, I’d say it was at least 80%.

Becker and Fagen’s lyrics stem from a major transitional period of baby-boomers moving into the X Generation. For many, their music is an enigmatic soundtrack of youth, during a period when disco and glam rock dominated the airwaves. The two men met as students at Bard College on the Hudson in 1967, with a common interest in jazz, soul music, Chicago blues, contemporary literature, particularly ‘black humour’ – their lyrics and rhythm transcends the popular culture of their time.

Fagen recorded his first solo album “The Nightfly” in 1980, a classic groove, both melancholy and optimistic, and still sounds fresh. He and Becker parted and reunited several times; they continued to write and produce for other artists, including Rickie Lee Jones, Diana Ross. In the 1990s Fagen began producing Rock and Soul Revue in New York, working with a host of artists including Aretha Franklin. Steely Dan tended to tour America more than abroad, but were back on road throughout the 1990s and I believe the first time they played in Ireland was 1996 – and last night was only their second. Wow.

Such is their multi-generational appeal that they recently played at Coachella Festival and toured USA with Elvis Costello and the Imposters.

We all know that 2016 saw a massive exodus of our greatest musicians to a jam session in the sky. So when the BluesFest was announced this summer and 70’s legends like Chic, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates were signed up, I yearned for the opportunity to hear the soundtrack of my childhood live on stage.  Watching The Doobie Brothers open the show last night with a string of hits, “Long Train Runnin”, “China Grove”, from the 1973 album, “The Captain and Me” was quite the uplifting experience.

Their unique sound of California rock and blue-eyed soul, illuminated the arena, with Tom Johnston on vocals.

If I could see them again tomorrow night I wouldn’t hesitate – put these bands on your bucket list!

The Blues Fest continues tonight with ‘soft rock’ icons Daryl Hall and John Oates, opening with Chris Isaac.  Now in its second year in Dublin, I highly recommend this festival for a lyrical legendary weekend.

Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers are back on Monday 30th for a second show.

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