photos by Greg Cristman; words by Andrew Frisicano

Steely Dan @ Beacon Theatre 10/1/2013

Around 8pm Thursday night, two guys in red fezzes were finishing their cigarettes, about to head into the third of Steely Dan's seven nights at NYC's Beacon Theatre. Of course, they knew that the band's 1976 album, The Royal Scam, would be played front-to-back, and closing side one would be a mid-tempo funk jam named after the felt hats. Like many Steely Dan tunes, it's a song about sex (condoms and safe-sex in this case) shrouded in various metaphors, riddles and creative turns-of-phrase and has plenty to unpack lyrically, a worthy match for their knotty, chord-jumping, studio-polished arrangements.

After a short opening set by the Deep Blue Organ Trio, a backup singer dropped the needle on an onstage turntable to kick things off. The platter was just a prop, but at times it did seem like an LP could've been playing from the stage. The band's co-leaders--keyboardist-singer Donald Fagan and guitarist Walter Becker--steered a band of 11-members (including four horns and three singers) through the relatively-guitar-forward album. According to Fagan, the hometown gig was the fiftieth of their tour and indeed the group played like a road-honed unit.

The show wasn't strictly an exercise in fidelity: the aforementioned "Fez" got a total overhaul, with backup singers taking the vocals while Fagan and Becker took a break off-stage. Other changes were obvious too: drummer Keith Carlock, a forceful presence all night, bolstered the ending of "Kid Charlemagne" with an energetic fill (the recorded version fades out). Guitarist Jon Herington, who shared lead duties with Walter Becker, played with a crisp, overdriven sound, crunching melodies on songs like "Don't Take Me Alive" and dive-bombing into fret-hopping runs on others. Becker mainly stuck to a twangy Strat tone, playing leads that were exploratory and slightly more left-field (well within his rights as 1/2 of the core duo). Solos stretched out and still the album flew by.

For the second set, the band ventured into classics from various albums: Aja's title track and "Peg," Countdown to Ecstasy's "Bodhisattva," "Your Gold Teeth," "Show Biz Kids" (famously sampled by Super Furry Animals) and "My Old School" and Gaucho's "Time Out of Mind" and "Hey Nineteen" were among the "selected hits." During the latter song, Becker delivered a story about digging up some old pot, smoking it, then venturing out to a bar for some of his favorite restorative tonic, Cuervo Gold. The several times he took the mic the guitarist was conversational, weird and hilarious, playing off Fagan's laid-back straight-man.

Even for a non-diehard like myself (no prop hats here), I felt like the band could've kept playing beyond their two-hour-plus set without losing momentum (absent hits include "Deacon Blues," "Black Cow," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"). It's a testament to both the depth of their catalog and how well they do it live.

Photos in this post are from Tuesday's show (10/1) which was "Greatest Hits Night." Tonight's Beacon Theatre show features Gaucho in full and tickets are still available, as they are for the remainder of their shows: Saturday (10/5) is "Audience Request Night," Monday (10/7) is "Aja Night" and Tuesday (10/8) is another "Greatest Hits Night." Setlists from Tuesday and Thursday's show, along with more photos from Tuesday, below.

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Deep Blue Organ Trio

Steely Dan

SETLIST: Steey Dan @ Beacon Theatre 10/1/2013
Blueport (Gerry Mulligan cover)
Your Gold Teeth
Aja
Hey Nineteen
Show Biz Kids
Black Cow
Black Friday
Time Out of Mind
Deacon Blues
Bodhisattva
Rikki Don't Lose That Number
FM (No Static at All)
Don't Take Me Alive
I Want to (Do Everything for You)
Josie
Peg
My Old School
Reelin' in the Years

Encore:
Kid Charlemagne
Untouchables Theme

SETLIST: Steey Dan @ Beacon Theatre 10/4/2013
The Royal Scam:
Kid Charlemagne
The Caves of Altamira
Don't Take Me Alive
Sign in Stranger
The Fez
Green Earrings
Haitian Divorce
Everything You Did
The Royal Scam

Selected hits...
Your Gold Teeth
Aja
Hey 19
Show Biz Kids
Black Friday
Time out of Mind
I Want to (Do Everything for You)
Peg
Bodhisattva
My Old School

Encore:
Reelin' in the Years