Concert Review - Steely Dan at Ravinia Festival

Concert Review - Steely Dan at Ravinia Festival

Steely Dan pulled a bit of old school showmanship Friday night at Ravinia.  Backing vocalist Carolyn Leonhart walked over to a short, black column displaying a turntable.  As she placed the needle on the record, you could hear the crackling sound from the starting grooves of an LP record.  The band then launched in to side one of “Aja,” their sixth album.

There was plenty of excellent musicianship on stage as well.  Aided by backing keyboards and guitars, along with a horn section, a Steely Dan staple, the band can now perform the wide variety of sounds and styles.  The band’s studio albums were pretty much co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker with an amalgamation of session players and guests.  They really didn’t tour in the early days, as it was tough to recreate the unique nature of each album.

However, with Fagen and Becker, the current ensemble delivered the 1977 album that yielded three top forty hits, “Peg,” “Deacon Blues,” and “Josie.” The audience was treated to an outstanding take on “I Got the News,” a song most of the other cities on tour didn’t get to hear.  Of course the tradeoff was the absence of “Green Earrings” and “Bodhisattva,” the terrific, drum infused opening track from “Countdown to Ecstasy” that have been in several set lists so far on the tour.

My seat was in the fifth row, on the far right side, which ironically gave a pretty decent view of Fagen at his electric piano as evidenced by the featured image.

He served as both master of ceremonies and vocalist, save for the bit where Becker introduced the song “Hey Nineteen” with a tale of Cuervo Gold and asking for sexual favors.  After “Aja,” Fagen promised up a mix of material from the other albums, and managed to pluck something from every album, save for “Pretzel Logic” (bummer) and “Two Against Nature” (no big deal.) Nearly two and half hours long, Fagen had to still return quickly for the encore, because as he let the audience know, “they told us we only have seven minutes to go. If there’s anything that baffles me about Ravinia, it is why so many acts have to cut their performances short due to the curfew, since the Festival usually trots an opening act.  Yet the shows still start at 7:30 or 8:00 PM.

That fact should not detract from what was an excellent concert.  The horns were superb, and backup singers were right on, especially as Leonhart took lead vocals on “Dirty Work” from 1972 debut “Can’t Buy A Thrill.”  Drummer Keith Carlock was superb, playing with ungodly energy.  Keyboardist Sam Yahel opened, with a very brief set of Keith Emerson inspired instrumentals.

Set List:  Steely Dan – 8/13/2011 – Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL

Intro: Dizzy’s Bidness
Black Cow
Deacon Blues
Home at Last
I Got the News
Your Gold Teeth
Black Friday
Hey Nineteen
Everything Must Go
Time Out of Mind
Show Biz Kids
Dirty Work
Papa Don’t Take No Mess(James Brown cover)
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years

Kid Charlemagne
Outro: Last Tango in Paris Theme
The Band:

Donald Fagen, Keyboards, Vocals
Walter Becker, Guitar, Tall Tales
Jon Herrington, Guitar
Jim Beard, Keyboards
Freddie Washington, Bass
Keith Carlock, Drums
Michael Leonhart, Trumpet
Jim Pugh, Trombone
Roger Rosenberg, Walt Weiskoff, Sax
Carolyn Leonhart, Cindy Mizelle, Catherine Russell, Backing Vocals


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  • Steely Dan’s 1976 hit "Kid Charlemagne" was loosely inspired by LSD high priest and chemist Owsley Stanley. Rockaeology at has the lyrics and their meanings: With “You'd go to LA on a dare and you'd go it alone,” Becker and Fagen reference a trip Owsley made as described in Ken Kesey’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”: the move to Los Angeles from Berkeley to mass produce LSD in 1965.

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