Sunday, July 6, 2008

Seth Rogen was right. Steely Dan gargles my b***s.

Saturday was a great night for Bluesfest. Lucinda Williams, Adrian Belew, Zappa Plays Zappa, and Steely Dan. All in one night! However, while Saturday night WAS a great night for Bluesfest, Steely Dan was not a great act for Bluesfest. I hate to say it, because I know there are a lot of big-time Steely Dan fans out there. But this is NOT an outdoor festival act. This is a sitting-on-your-hands at the NAC act. Maybe. I really don't understand the appeal of Steely Dan and their ilk. But more on that later. First of all, I was struggling on Saturday. Somehow I've screwed up my knee so badly that I can barely drive and sit down, let alone stand. It happened Saturday afternoon, so I figured it would just go away by Saturday night. We were at a friend's house for dinner, and Jim and Debbie made smoked pork which was so good I couldn't leave until I'd eaten almost all of it. Then Jim and I headed off to the show.

The walk from my secret hidden parking space to the show normally takes about ten minutes, tops. This time it took about twenty, and by the time I got there, my knee was excruciating. We had missed Adrian Belew, but were just in time to see Lucinda Williams, who had just begun. We couldn't get close enough to really see her, but from a distance the show was just as cool. This was really the one show I wanted to see most, out of the whole Bluesfest. Well, this and Ray Davies. And she is an act that belongs at Bluesfest. That smoky, hard-edged whisky voice, the folk-country-rock songs as the sunlight fades late in the day, it was just a wonderful show. She sang a few tunes from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, my favourite album of hers and one with an apt title. I think perhaps she chose that title because at times, her voice actually does sound like car wheels on a gravel road. I know, it doesn't sound great, but it is.

Then we made our way to the Zappa Plays Zappa show, where I ran into my boss, who asked me if I was depressed when I told him I love Lucinda Williams. I told him that every night, I put on her records and cry until I fall asleep. Man, it must be sweet being Dweezil Zappa. All you have to do is learn to play guitar as well as your dad did, assemble an all-star band of virtuoso musicians who are capable of playing your dad's music, and away you go! The songs are already there for you, the name is already there for you...just fourteen years of intensive practice, and you've got it made! Then you can play festivals like Ottawa and people will leave thinking it was a great show! And it was a great show. I saw only the first few minutes, because the guys I was with wanted to see Steely Dan, but Zappa Plays Zappa was awesome. Not as tight as Frank, but then how could you be? Just a lot of fun with some of the greatest music of all time.

Then we meandered our way over to Steely Dan. Once again, the giant white tent in the middle of the field blocked everyone's view, but I suppose that's where the cameras are that put the images up on the screens that were also obscured from view by other tents. It's tough to find a place where you can see a screen clearly and get a line on the stage itself without getting there mid-afternoon. And I stood there, in intense pain, for two hours. Steely Dan certainly put on a long show. And I suppose, for who they are and what they do, it was a decent one. But I'm just not a Steely Dan guy. That technical, studio sound they have bothers me when I listen, and amazing musicianship notwithstanding I find it to be only a step above elevator music. But then, it appeared that the crowd knew exactly what to expect.

I'm not sure I have ever seen a more listless crowd at Bluesfest. Thirty thousand people staring straight ahead, at the screens and the stage, not moving at all, and pretty much catatonic for the whole two hours. It may as well have been a cult rally. David Koresh would have commanded just about the same response, only with more impassioned fervor. Not being a huge fan, I didn't know almost all the songs. Which is normally fine, but you could tell they were playing note-for-note what they did on the albums (at least with the songs I DID know). And I found myself hoping against hope that they would play some more familiar stuff, so I could at least be somewhat involved in the performance. But they didn't. When they came back out for the encore, I was expecting to finally hear "Reeling in the Years". Or, at the very least, "Ricki Don't Lose That Number". And frankly, if I go my whole life without ever again hearing that song, it will be too soon. But I wanted something familiar at least. And...nothing. They played one more song, for their encore, that I had never heard before, and that was it. In fact, Donald Fagen left the stage and went home halfway through that song. He just stood up, waved to the crowd, and left. I guess he was as bored as I was.


  1. What a moron. With that asinine review you'll always be an intern. Steely Dan would gargle your b**s if you had any!

  2. Did you see the show? Here's a review from someone who know, like me -