Steely Dan – Live at Verizon Amphitheatre

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Somewhat late in the year, my concert buddy finally got his concert groove on, with Steely Dan being the 2nd of three concerts we’ll attend in consecutive months.   As I tell him, it’s always important to have one on the calendar to look forward to, otherwise there’s what? 

This concert qualifies as an event.  Spouses were included, as well as another couple joining us.

First, the set-up:  We met at Pure Taqueria for pre-show dinner and drinks.  This is the chain’s original location and perhaps slightly less noisy than their others due to their fondness of sound reflecting construction.  The food quality was great, the drinks enjoyable, and the company very companionable due to UGA losing to Clemson the prior and beating the detestable Gamecocks as we ate.  As far as doing things right, UGA is starting their football season 2-0 in my book.

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The concert was at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, an overly long way of distinguishing this site from their others around the nation.  It might have been, say..., Verizon Atlanta, and we’d all get the point.  But it’s better than that, because it’s actually in Alpharetta, which is just a hop and skip (no jump needed) from my house.   Traffic is never really bad (try Lakewood if you want a nightmare), the venue has pretty good acoustics, and they consistently have the friendliest volunteers/employees during a show. 

On this particular evening, another “event” worthy qualification is the VIP status.

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While I’d like to think that all the kind things I’ve posed about this venue in the past had finally garnered a certain cachet for moi, the truth is that VIP status is something for which cash is required.

The first tangible benefit is VIP parking.  In a venue where getting in is easy and leaving requires only a modicum of patience, VIP parking has a small lot and its own entrance.  More importantly, it exits separate from the main parking lot ergo no traffic.  Pretty awesome.

But this being an “event,” it also qualified for tailgating.  UGA was busy sealing its victory over the chickens, and we enjoyed an “event” worthy brew, transported all the way from a Belgium monastery where the pious painstakingly craft these beloved troves.

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Even the presence of lesser beers in the vicinity did nothing to discredit the honor of St. Bernardus.

Do box seats count as “event” worthy?  I think so, especially when they have a “call” button for table service, free moving chairs (rather than the shoulder to shoulder press of general seating) and an elevation advantage over the seated crowd before us.  Spot on.  Oh, and the gentle breeze throughout the evening was made to order.

Well, one of you may have begun this expecting a concert review, so...

The Verizon stage is rather giant.  It’s suited for an orchestra (who play there frequently), so any band appears relatively small without significant staging props. 

Steely Dan tried.

Their band included 8 musicians and 3 backing vocalists, this in addition to its founders, guitarist Walter Becker and keyboardist/singer Donald Fagen.

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The backing band was named “The Bipolar Allstars” and the backing singers “The Borderline Brats.”  (The latter might be renamed “We Swim Pool Laps” given their synchronized arm movements throughout the show).

The show began with the core band playing an instrumental, “Blueport,” essentially calling the audience to their seats.  Becker and Fagen entered, and after a mock plug in of an 8-Track into an old stereo at stage right, they began playing their 1977 album, Aja, in full.   Good choice!  As with the 8 track (or vinyl being my preference) the band played the entire album with small gaps between the songs.

Soon afterwards, sing-a-longs began, with crowd favorites “Deacon Blues,” “Peg” and “Josie.”

Afterwards, Fagen began talking, introducing “The Mood Swings Tour” and promising much to come.

There were favorite parts and not-so-favorite parts.  As expected and in keeping with Steely Dan’s expectations of perfection, the band was awesome.  Saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and lead guitarist Jon Harrington stood out throughout the show.

It was interesting to see which guitar lines Becker chose to play.  Where blues lines were concerned, he owned the night, such as on “Godwhacker” where the tune felt completely different than the album.  Otherwise, he was “eyes on sheet music” for much of the night.  Harrington played most of the more complicated solos, highlighted ably by Verizon’s video team.  His solo for “Black Friday” was excellent, not to mention that this song was a well placed rocker following a string of their jazzier songs.  

In the “let’s play stuff not as good so you enjoy the good stuff more” category was an arrangement of “Razor Boy” sung entirely by The Borderline Brats.  Nice gesture, but they were selected, presumably, and performed to perfection in their role of supplementing Fagen’s aging voice.  Alone, they don’t make it past audition stage of American Idol – there just wasn’t enough distinction between the three to make it interesting.  Maybe they should take turns night by night. This regrettable inclusion was followed by the similarly disappointing “I Want to (Do Everything For You)”, which they also sang but at least served as a means of making band intros.

The band got back on track with “My Old School” and “Reelin’ in the Years” which were definitely crowd favorites, though the latter was Fagen’s weakest song of the night on vocals.

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Walter Becker is a rather reserved performer, though quite graceful and exacting with his guitar.  At the mic, he’s still feeling it, especially with his hilarious intro to “Hey Nineteen.”  Getting old sucks.   Fagen is a pretty good emcee and otherwise ruled the evening, primarily at his keyboards.

Overall, it was a great show, with ample hits, well played, good sound (vocals were difficult to distinguish at times), and, of course, great company!

One other “event” worthy mention:  Exiting our box, one of the ushers blocked the pedestrian traffic to let us enter the aisle.  That’s VIP service!

 

Setlist:

Blueport (Gerry Mulligan song) – intro music by band
Black Cow
Aja
Deacon Blues
Peg
Home at Last
I Got the News
Josie

Your Gold Teeth
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Hey Nineteen
Show Biz Kids
Black Friday
Time Out of Mind
Godwhacker
Daddy Don’t Live in NYC No More
Bodhisattva
Razor Boy (sung by The Borderline Brats)
I Want to (Do Everything For You) – Band intros
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years

Encore:

Kid Charlemagne
”Untouchables” Theme (by Nelson Riddle) – exit music by the band


4 of 5 STARS

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