Who says ‘You Can’t Buy a Thrill’?* For just £20.50 I was ‘Reelin’ in the Years’* singing along and dancing (well sort of dancing) at Manchester’s ‘Band on the Wall’ last Saturday – taking in the spirit and sound of Steely Dan.
One of my all time favourite bands, Steely Dan have since the 70’s shown me just how good music can be. For those not familiar, although I’m sure you’ve heard of them, they are a jazz rock combo formed in New York by college friends Walter Becker and Donald Fagin. (Sadly Walter Becker died in 2017.)
Why do I like them so much? Well, their music combines jazz, pop, rock, bits of reggae, funk, blues and a lot more. It is catchy (there’s an old man’s music term) but complex, sophisticated and rich. They always managed to get the best musicians for every song and their recordings are so hi fidelity and so well engineered you hear the individual sound of every instrument.
Despite the complexity of their music, their lyrics, hooks and infectious dance grooves stick in your memory. They are of such quality, it is no wonder they have been sampled so often in pop songs right up to today. Their lyrics are clever. They tell a story and can be quite profound or acerbic. Some contain hidden meanings. Frustratingly some are a complete mystery to me but they still have appeal and make me want to sing them.
I won’t go into massive detail about Steely Dan. You can look them up if you’re interested. But if you’ve never given them a chance, check out some of their songs.
Before I go any further, I feel I should clarify something. I didn’t actually see Steely Dan at the Band on the Wall last Saturday. I saw the wonderful 10 piece tribute band ‘Nearly Dan’. What a great name!
And what a great night it was. The place was packed. Not just with pensioners either. I was quite amazed and encouraged to see there were 20 and 30 somethings there and who clearly knew all the songs and most of the lyrics. There is hope for our youngsters!
I’m sure you’ve all seen a really good tribute band at some point and this was quite something. I was gobsmacked at how close some of the versions were to the original especially given how complex many of Steely’s songs are. The vocals and instrumentals were extremely good although there were a few glitches early on. The lead vocalist closed the first set saying, “We’re going to take a 15 minute break now whilst we argue backstage about who got what wrong etc. but we will be back best of friends.” They were and they got better and better.
Finally, after a very energetic encore with instrumental battles between the guitars and saxophones, the gig came to an end and the house lights came on. It was hilarious to hear the oldies remarking on the way out that their legs and backs were a bit sore after jostling about during the concert.
This was as special and as uplifting as any concert I’ve been to (and I’ve seen the real Steely Dan live).
The entertainment continued though on the tram back home. I have mentioned in other posts that when travelling on the Oldham-Didsbury Metrolink tram at the weekend, one is guaranteed to meet aliens from another Universe or parallel world. There were teens with black and white clown painted faces, feral goblins standing on seats and smoking some substance but the star of the tram-show this time was a black guy dressed in a sequined and embroidered denim jacket and jeans, leather and bead jewellery, aviator glasses and huge expensive looking headphones. Despite his somewhat stylish look, he was I think under some influence. I wouldn’t say it was alcohol as he was drinking what looked like an energy drink but it was the way he drank it that was somewhat unorthodox. He produced a daffodil head from his hood and poured a few drops out of his bottle into the trumpet and drank it as if it was a cup. Throughout the journey he struggled to hold these whilst also trying to use his mobile phone and put on some thin leather gloves which he produced from his sock. It was a ballet of totally uncoordinated actions. I wondered where he was intending to go and hoped he would get there in one piece.
Nearly Dan (click here to go to their website) began life around 1995 as a 5-piece band called Baldwin’s Casuals (the name of Mike Baldwin’s clothes factory in Coronation Street), performing quality cover versions at venues in Stoke-on-Trent.