Monday, September 20, 2010

Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs at Starlight: The Monsters of Yacht review

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM

click to enlarge Still got it.
  • Still got it.
A half-hour in on Saturday at Starlight, the Monsters of Yacht -- Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, plus nine touring musicians -- launched into "Green Flower Street," the second track off Fagen's 1982 solo album, The Nightfly. It was the first Fagen-penned tune of the night, and for the Fagen/Steely Dan nerds in the house, hearing that groovy keyboard intro was like celebrating your birthday on Christmas morning. (In theory, you would get double presents.) 

I experienced actual goosebumps. Then a great storm swept down and threatened to ruin everything. 

Somehow I had never even considered the possibility that something as stupid as the weather could prevent me from seeing a show I'd looked forward to all summer. But there it was: thunder, lightning, a monsoon of water swooshing through the amphitheatre. The crowd fleeing toward the roofed walkway on stage right. Me, arms folded, despondent, soaked, dead eyes staring straight ahead as the band exited the stage. 

Prior, the set had been mostly composed of the old-school R&B and soul covers that inspired the three of them to put together the band and tour in the first place. We went in knowing they'd play those songs; the question -- for me, at least -- was how many, and when do we get to hear songs from Silk Degrees and The Nightfly and If That's What It Takes. They started out with three oldies in a row -- "Sookie Sookie," "Heighty Hi," "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" -- and then funked their way into "Shakedown Street," a Grateful Dead song that I've always thought sounding like a Steely Dan song. It was smooth as hell. By the time they played "Green Flower Street," I was in the zone, as excited as I've been at a show all year. 

To say the storm came as a disappointment, then, would be a horrible understatement. And oh, what a mean, nasty rain it was. We waited it out in a covered area. I hazarded out for a beer and stepped in a giant puddle, soaking my foot all the way through, Groundhog Day-style. People checked the Doppler on their iPhones. I chugged angrily at my beer and stewed. Can't I just have this one thing? I have so little!

And then: The rain let up.  And then: A man walked across the stage to the mic and told us the band was coming back. And then: I bumped into my cousin, who had $130 seats -- fifth row, stage left, right in front of Fagen -- and told me there were two empty seats next to him. So me and my cuz and my boy Lil Scoopies -- my Steely Dan life partner, who introduced me to Catalyst: The Original Recordings (1968-71) [import] -- creeped down and enjoyed the rest of the show a first down away from Donald Fagen, our mutual hero. 

We didn't get everything we wanted, but we got enough, and there were some pleasant surprises along the way. What on paper would have sounded boring to me -- only one Steely song, and it's "Reelin' in the Years"? WTF? -- was brought to life live by a flawless touring band and the charisma and impeccable taste of the stars of the show. I would not, for example, have anticipated that Scaggs' silky vocals on Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO" would be the high point of the evening. Or that the McDonald Husk would sound so right on the Band's "The Shape I'm In."  

Never in a million years would I have expected Fagen, rock's most notorious misanthrope, to be so enthusiastic. Dressed in a loose black sportcoat and sunglasses, he introduced the songs, made small talk, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. On Willie Deville's "Cadillac Walk," he wandered the stage like a mad scientist, gleefully blowing into a melodica. Lurched behind his Steinway, his hands leaping high up in the air and plunking down at the keys, he looked like some spooky house pianist on an episode of The Twilight Zone. I even caught him smiling a few times. My god, it was thrilling. 

The encore kicked off with the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda," and toward the end of the song the light rain that had settled in over the previous half-hour grew stronger. A stage tech ran up and said something to Scaggs. Scaggs turned and lifted his hand to his neck, making the "cut" sign to Fagen -- their time was up, it seemed. Fagen perked up, toweled off his face, and shook his head. He pointed down at his piano and raised a finger. He wanted to do one more. Lightning lit up the sky to the east, the rain blew sideways, and the band played on. 



*McDonald's extended piano intro to "Takin' It to the Streets."
*Scaggs' vocal fills on "Lowdown." At one point he replaced the word "lowdown" with "You know what I'm talkin' about." 

The Crowd: Old and sitting down. Section C on stage right was where the party was -- they got out of their seats and actually danced for the last half of the show. I wasn't as lucky over in Fagen territory. When we snuck down to the expensive seats, the guy in the row behind me tapped my shoulder and smugly noted that he thought it odd that before the storm a different person was sitting in my seat, but now I was sitting there. "Are these your seats?" I asked. No, they weren't his seats, but his date couldn't see as well anymore. It was about to get nasty but the date intervened and he dropped it. Still, I was reluctant to stand and dance for fear he'd sic security on me. 

Regrets: Not giving that dork a wedgie. Can you believe he said that to me? 

Note: Persons with photopasses were only allowed to take pictures during the first four songs. I did not know this, and the stage security guys did not find me in any way charming when I ventured down around song six. Also, I am terrible at taking pictures. 


Sookie Sookie
Heighty Hi
Don't Mess Up A Good Thing
Shakedown Street
You Never Can Tell
I've Got News For You
Green Flower Street
Miss Sun
I Keep Forgettin' 
Rock Steady 
Rag Mama Rag
The Shape I'm In 
Love T.K.O.
I Love The Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love
Cadillac Walk
What A Fool Believes
Takin' It To The Streets
Reelin' In The Years
Love Train
Help Me Rhonda
Them Changes

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