The congregation at the Church of Steely Dan might not be as numerous as the followers of the Latter Day Stones or Eaglesism, but after visiting a sermon at Mount Merriweather’s Post Pavilion on Tuesday night, I can report that what they lack in size, they make up for in vigor. Like proud dogmatic scientologists, Becker, Fagan & Associates would not allow for close up pictures, so I was forced to shoot the first two songs from behind the soundboard. After dutifully standing with the small photo scrum behind the mixing board for about 15 seconds of the opening protracted jazz intro (Pastor Walter and High Priest Dan had not even appeared before the masses), the seated congregants behind me yelled things like “Sit the FUCK DOWN!” “I’m trying to watch STEELY DAN’S HORN SECTION WARM UP, YOU STUPID SONOFABITCH!” “FOR GOD’S SAKES, I DON’T COME TO WHERE YOU GO TO WATCH YOUR FAVORITE BAND AND STAND THERE LIKE A FUCKING IDIOT!”
It was unnerving, and not only because I worried that they would get violent. These are fans at a Steely Dan show, not metalheads at a 1986 Megadeath show or hardcore Black Flag fans. They are about to sit and watch two hours of mellow jazz rock, most of which will be dominated by a solo on one of the following instruments: undistorted electric guitar, melodica, trombone, trumpet, sax.
Now don’t get me wrong; prior to my run-in with the Daniacs, I considered myself a Steely Dan fan. I have several records on vinyl. I know all of the words to “My Old School” and “Reelin in the Years.” But upon sight of the aging masses here to stand up and cheer after the third alto sax solo in a song with four alto sax solos, I found myself reconsidering my self-elected membership status in this club. It might be a little more exclusive than I had previously thought.
Like any smart band from the seventies still on tour, Steely Dan did not deviate too far from the script. They played “Aja” and “Hey Nineteen” pretty early in the set, whipping fans into as much of a frenzy as a fan can be whipped into while adamantly sitting down and listening to jazz rock. There was an opportunity for the band to flex their muscles on every song. The lead guitar player, who looked suspiciously like Lou Reed had an opportunity to run wild every 4.5 minutes (between horn solos). And run wild he did. In any 30 second bout of playing, he played more individual notes than his velvet doppelganger played in his entire career.
In my opinion, the pace dropped off toward the middle of the set, save for the moment when Walter Becker left his guitar perch (where his Tele was happily resting on his beer gut) and took the mic at center stage and delivered a spoken word/ scat sermon on drugs, procreation, Steely Dan and an existential discursive on the very nature of life in the modern world while the band held pattern. It was surreal.
But after inviting the singers to lead “Dirty Work” (Priest Donald was apparently too cool), the Dan rared back in the fourth quarter, Fagan blazing like a frail-throated, geriatric Achilles into “Josie” “Peg” “My Old School” and “Reelin’ In The Years” before closing with “Kid Charlemagne.” The faithful, like Scientologists before L. Ron Hubbard, sat, clapped, waved, cheered, and sang along as if in the presence of prophets from on high.
Your Gold Teeth
Everything Must Go
Time out of Mind
I Got the News
Show Biz Kids
Papa Don’t Take No Mess (James Brown cover)
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years