Images above: Stealing Dan & Don, Steely Dan tribute duo; Steely Dan LP cover for Pretzel Logic
Review of Stealing Dan & Don, Jazz at George IV, Thursday 22 October
by Keith Richards
One of the genuine bug-bears of the various Covid restrictions has been the loss of live music so it was such a thrill when it was proclaimed that Jazz at George IV was back with Stealing Dan & Don on 22 October. Equally, when organisers Larry and Bridget had to quickly announce the cancellation of The Blues Engineers this week after Boris’ statement, it was just yet another reason to throw my toys out of my pram. We can only hope that this edition of the on-going disaster movie does end in early December and allow for a gig or two before Christmas but until then I can only live off memories of the sounds of Steely Dan.
Funnily enough I am generally not a huge fan of the genre known as ‘Tribute Bands’ and rarely go to see them but weirdly I have seen two this year and they have both been devotees of the Walter Becker and Donald Fagan led band that took the world by storm in the early ‘70’s with their blend of Jazz, Blues and Latin with a touch of Rock and R&B thrown in. I saw the full ten-piece line up of Nearly Dan at the prestigious Jazz Café before lock down but this time the exigencies of Corona measures meant that multi-instrumentalist and arranger (vocalist, keyboardist & trumpeter) Chris Clark had cut down his preferred 11 musicians to just himself and guitarist Ian Salmon.
Interestingly, one of my complaints about too many tribute acts is that they find someone with physical similarities to a major act and set them up in front of a band to do what is effectively an impression. Mick Jagger and David Bowie both provide suitable idiosyncratic inspiration for parody, for example. That Fagan and Becker wrote and played with such a high level of musicianship, allied to less focus on on-stage personality means that anyone taking on their sound has to do so from a higher professional standard than your average imitator.
All credit to Chris for his clever arrangements using synthesiser and keyboard, augmented with his trumpet (learned from his days in the Coldstream Guards apparently) and his vocals that allowed the genuine ‘Dan’ sound to come through. Ian’s Guitar too eerily echoed Walter Becker’s style and meant that despite the rather spread out seating arrangement, courtesy of ‘social distanced’ tables, there was much foot tapping, table drumming and word miming to be seen.
Now, I am actually old enough to have bought my favourite Pretzel Logic (1974) at the time, as can be seen by the photographic evidence and the guys did not disappoint by playing two songs from that album: Ricky Don’t Lose That Number (their biggest hit at No 4 in the UK charts) and My Old School. Although we were ‘Covid time bound’ we were treated over a couple of hours and two sets to a wide selection of tracks from all nine Steely Dan studio albums.
The highlight for me was probably Reeling in the Years from their first album Cant Buy A Thrill (1972) and brought back memories of a distant youth. The overall pleasure was the quality of the musicianship and the obvious sensitivity to Becker and Fagan’s unique music. The other massive plus point for me was that this gig proved that even with Tier 2 level restrictions it is possible to put on a show. It might lack a little of the atmosphere of a full on packed dance but the obvious shared joy of musicians and audience alike, that live music is possible makes me ache for the next opportunity. Massive thanks to Larry Pryce, Bridget and Chiswick Calendar as well as to everyone at George IV for a treat in these days of Covid.
Keith Richards writes the Chiswick Confined / Chiswick Unbound blog for The Chiswick Calendar. See his weekly blog posts here.
Keith’s book: Never Quite the Insider is available on Amazon