The Summer of Living Dangerously
Double-bill Classic Rock concerts have always sparked my imagination but last Friday’s concert at the Toyota Music Factory was not what I expected. Steely Dan was joined by The Doobie Brothers on this tour and the show was great beyond my expectations. The packed audience was enjoying the nice summer weather while both bands were in rare form – thrilling the crowd with all of their glorious hit songs that we have all come to know and love.
The Doobie Brothers have been known for exciting concerts with much audience participation so this set was more of the same. Easing onto the stage, slowly working their way through “Natural Thing” and then going headfirst into “Rockin’ Down the Highway” – they never looked back after that. Lead vocalist/guitarist Tom Johnston rarely slowed down as he led his troops on such classics as “Jesus Is Just Alright”, “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “Black Water”. John McFee was a revelation on this night as not only did he play a mean guitar he also dabbled with the pedal steel during “South City Midnight Lady”, the Violin during the aforementioned “Black Water” and the harmonica later in the show.
The entire band played a massive part in making this show one to remember as guitarist Pat Simmons stole the spotlight during “Jesus” as her contributed some soulful vocals to the end of the song while also hitting all of the right notes on his guitar throughout the show. Mark Russo contributed mightily on the sax during “Eyes of Silver” while Billy Payne did a fine job on the keyboard during “Takin’ It to the Streets”. It took the audience a song or two to catch up to the band, but once they did – the party was on: belting out the lyrics to almost every song, dancing in the aisles during “Long Train Runnin’” and showing their appreciation with a grand round of applause when the set was over.
Known for their beautifully done vocal harmonies, the Doobie Brothers were spot on the whole night with multiple guys taking turns singing of the different songs. I was just amazed at how professional, tight and at ease these guys were with the vocal parts to every song. My earliest introduction to the band was probably hearing “China Grove” as a youngster and the rendition they perform tonight sounded just as sweet live as it did so many years ago. Finishing with “Listen to the Music”, the Doobie Brothers proved that after forty-eight years in the business and they still have a lot to offer to the music world.
Steely Dan’s music has been categorized many different ways over the years (soft rock, pop, jazz rock) but to me they have always been just good old fashioned classic rock. Now into their fifth decade of music and with the only original member left being Donald Fagen, they are still pleasing audiences all over the globe with their own brand of tunes. It took a few songs for the whole band to gel together but when they launched into “Hey Nineteen”, there was no turning back. The Danettes (trio of backup singers) were amazing, the horn section very important to the overall sound and Donald was a joy to watch. The guitar work during “Black Friday” was phenomenal, Donald’s melodica (that funky little mouth keyboard) enhanced “Aja” and countless other songs and the hits just kept on coming. “FM (No Static at All)” was sexy as hell, the upbeat, jazzy sound of “Kid Charlemagne” lit the place up and I was pleasantly surprised when the Danette’s took turns singing ”Dirty Work”.
Whereas The Doobie Brothers set was wild & crazy – Steely Dan’s was more subtle but no less exciting. Just being able to witness their brilliance in person was enough for me & probably most of the audience. There were a few touching moments during the set: the first happened early when Donald mentioned the passing of longtime friend/bandmate Walter Becker and the second when the original studio bassist on 1977’s “Peg”, Chuck Rainey, came out to perform that classic hit and the audience was very receptive to his efforts. Continuing to please the audience with their hits, Steely Dan reeled off “Black Cow” (stunning), “Josie” and the amazing “My Old School” before stepping off the stage.
Always knowing there would be an encore, the crowd screamed for more until the band reappeared to carry on the good vibes of the night. Playing perhaps their most recognizable song of their career, “Reelin’ in the Years”, Steely Dan blessed us with a brilliant version of this classic rock hit. With Donald Fagen finally exiting the stage for good, the rest of the band played “The Untouchables” as the audience reveled in the excitement. Whoever paired these two iconic bands together for a Summer tour should be commended because this show will linger in the minds of all who attended for a long time to come.