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Steely Dan thrills crowd with nonstop hits
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Steely Dan thrills crowd with nonstop hits

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

Steely Dan
October 12 and 13
Paramount Theatre


Steely Dan swept into Seattle with a large, 13-piece configuration - with a four-part horn section and three backup singers - for two eagerly awaited concerts this past week at the Paramount. The shows featured complete tracks from two different albums, Aja and The Royal Scam, and then rounded out the second part of each show with some of their greatest hits from other albums. Fans were thrilled by songs they have been listening to and loving for sometimes as long as 35 years or more. It was mind-boggling as every single song that they played has been a major hit, and my companion and I marveled at hearing one hit after another.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's music remains timeless, defying classification into any time period or style. Their musicianship, compositions and arrangements are super-sophisticated, utilizing complex jazz chords and harmonies, hybridizing influences of jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, soul, funk and pop into their own one-of-a-kind sound. They are not afraid of using dissidence, adding to their uniqueness and unpredictability. The rhythms are powerful and infectious, and it is almost impossible to contain yourself in your seat. You want to get up and sing and dance joyfully along with the band!

Their lyrics are also intriguing, and can be cynical and sardonic comments on society, culture, and human shortcomings. Sometimes wild and cryptic and nonsequetorial, they are kind of like the musical world's answer to Salvador Dali's Surrealist painting; the meanings and images may not be clear, but when you put all the words together, they make sense on a conscious or subconscious level. These dark, ironic, satirical, societal observations are juxtaposed with lively, adventurous melodies. I love singing their songs and sing their wild lyrics, as do others, full out, as if the themes of the songs have deep, significant personal meaning to me as an individual, no matter how cryptic. I think that this is particularly amusing.

Both nights at the Paramount were exciting and fun, but I think that the first night, when the album Aja (1977) was played in its entirety, was the better of the two nights. I think Aja is Steely Dan's crowning glory. It won a Grammy Award, went platinum, and has sold over 5 million copies as the band's best-selling album. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed it at 145 of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

On both nights, the three backup vocalists swayed sensually and hypnotically throughout the evening, in time with the music. The first night they wore festive and wonderfully glittery, sequined, black cocktail mini-dresses. On the second night, they went for a more demure look with simple black dresses. Their singing was beautiful and their women's touch added a lot to the mix.

The band rounded out each evening with other popular hits from their long and illustrious career, including some of my favorite tunes from the 1975 Katy Lied album, songs from the 1980 album Gaucho and 1973's Countdown to Ecstasy, and numbers from their first album, 1972's Can't Buy a Thrill, including "Dirty Work" and their encore piece both nights, "Reelin' in the Years."

The stage lighting was detailed and complex with lots of dramatic changes. I found the sound mix a little disappointing; a bit muddled and "soupy," especially considering the kind of perfectionist fidelity and clarity on Steely Dan's albums, all made before the advent of 21st-century technology. I didn't know whether to attribute it to the Paramount's acoustics or the sound mixing. The instruments could have been more separated, especially the horns, which could have been more clear, forward and bright in their sound. However, the sound overall was fine enough to still enjoy this terrific and talented band of performers on these two memorable evenings.

Opening for Steely Dan with short sets each evening was Sam Yahel and his "Power Trio" of organ, electric bass and drums. I was thrilled and surprised to see Yahel as the opener. He is one of the great young organists and has performed and recorded with Joshua Redman and other jazz greats internationally.

For more information about Steely Dan, visit www.steelydan.com. For more information on upcoming events at the Paramount visit: www.stgpresents.org. One upcoming theatrical event at the Paramount that I highly recommend that no one miss is the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and multiple Tony Award-winner August: Osage County, performed by the brilliant Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago, playing October 27 through November 1. It is one of the best plays I have ever seen in my life. To learn more, visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.

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