Steely Dan in Camden

August 20, 2006

I made my slow way this weekend down to Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, to catch Steely Dan perform live on Saturday evening. Then I made my slow way back. It was completely worth it.

Steely Dan, the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, have collaborated in spurts over more than three decades, producing jazz-“rock” of a deeply clever, technically spectacular, and acerbic strain. Unlike some musical pairings, their sound is not minimal; they instead use lots of impressive session musicians, and are famous for their perfectionist studio recordings.

The concert did not disappoint; it’s the most fun I’ve had at a performance in a long time. Michael McDonald performed a long opening set and returned for the back end of the Dan set. (Though good to hear, I have to admit that shifting from the earnestness of “Takin’ It To The Streets” to the slyness of “Bodhisattva” ground some mental gears.) Becker and Fagen, and all the others on stage, were clearly having a great time. The set list was perhaps a little Aja-heavy (more than half the album!) and light on the newer material, but if they had performed every song I halfway hoped they would, we would have been there until 2 am. At any rate they couldn’t really go wrong doing any of their material; even if it was hit-heavy, they were hits for a reason. (All right, I admit it, I wanted “Two Against Nature“…)

Once you know a Steely Dan song’s lyrics, it starts to feel like a private joke shared between you and the band. Lots of their songs have made it into classic rock rotations, deeming them supposedly inoffensive enough to play in the lobbies and elevators of Serious People, and yet, should you hear Chain Lightning (about fascist rallies) or Hey Nineteen (celebrating, amongst other things [ahem], tequila and cocaine), it’s like you and SD are putting one over on someone. Being in a crowd of thousands, all anticipating the punch lines together, chanting the narrative of a world where everyone is at least slightly smarmy — now there’s a bonding experience.

Set list (Steely Dan only):

  • (Instrumental)
  • Bodhisattva
  • Time Out Of Mind
  • Aja
  • I Got The News
  • Hey Nineteen
  • Josie
  • Chain Lightning
  • Green Earrings
  • Pixeleen
  • Dirty Work (with female vocalists, giving it an unfamiliar spin)
  • (Instrumental)
  • Show Biz Kids
  • Do It Again
  • Peg
  • Don’t Take Me Alive
  • Kid Charlemagne


  • FM
  • My Old School

One Response to “Steely Dan in Camden”

  1. Jud Says:

    Know what I think was the lyric most people shouted out? “Is there gas in the car? Yes there’s gas in the car” (from Kid Charlemagne).

    Very good show. But I was disappointed that Michael McDonald didn’t join in for the vocals on “Time Out of Mind” and “I Got the News.” Yet he was doing vocals on songs that he didn’t do in the studio.

    I wish I wish I wish they would have played “Dr. Wu.” Especially considering the excellent horn section they had. Maybe next tour…

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