Are we still saying ‘Happy New Year’?! Maybe the moment has passed now, but nonetheless we had a great start to 2014 at the wonderful Horns Watford and thought we would share this review which was written by one of the many people who made it such a packed and fun place to be on a January Sunday afternoon….
Before there was punk or ska or any much else in my life there was Steely Dan (Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and an ever changing line up of musicians). The music was rocky but heavy on style and stolen modern jazz riffs. Unfortunately, the Jazzers didn’t like the loud guitars and the hippies didn’t like the jazz.
In fact that old fashioned harmony and melody was just a thin cover for a bleak underworld of sinister characters in dangerous situations. The heroes were drug dealers, serial killers, gangsters and the marginal.
They played smooth music that sounded just right for respectable people but then they had to go and spoil it with their own particular brand of subversion. I loved it.
When it was popular it wasn’t very popular, and since they had their one and only hit in 1976, it’s been downhill ever since. They didn’t tour much back then – it was too hard to reproduce the sound they got from session musicians in the studio. ‘Cult following’ does not do them justice. Did I say I loved them?
So I’ve driven over 20 miles to get to Watford, a town so far on the edge of London it fell off. I was at ‘The Horns’, a very old pub enclosed by modern hi-rise buildings. Good sound system and some great acts – why did I never go there before? I would rate it the best venue this side of the small London ones. I was right, it was well worth it. I got there early, and that was just as well too. I got a seat at the side of the stage, and was using the free wi-fi while the band set up. With the pub filling up very quickly, it was soon packed out. I think there were more Steely Dan fans there than I ever imagined I would see in one place.
This was Stanley Dee. They were playing on their home ground in front of a mixture of locals and Steely Dan Fans. Believe me they knew the words and there was dancing too!
Despite the purpose built stage, there still wasn’t enough room for this ten piece band of four vocalists, a very fine brass section, synth, drums, bass and an excellent lead guitar. I tried to get a good place to take a photo, but after plunging into the heavy crowd it was no better. I only just got back to my seat. If I’d wanted to get all the band in I’d have needed to go out onto the pavement.
They did the more basic early stuff as well as the complicated newer stuff. Donald Fagen’s solo album ‘The Nightfly’ even got a moment. It was a performance for real fans, and I’m afraid I think that includes me.
This must be the only occasion when the lead vocalist did a Q and A with the audience on these unique lyrics;
Q) “Is there gas in the car?”
A) “Yes there’s gas in the car,
I think the neighbours down the hall know who we are”.
Steely Dan never compromised and neither do Stanley Dee; not on the sound nor on the choice of tracks.
Side one had a good range of the less well known including one of my favourites, ‘Dr Wu’. Bad Sneakers was a joy too.
Side two started with all the famous hits. Great sounds (FM-No static at all, Do it again, Reelin’ in the Years) but again no compromises – they also did The Caves of Altamira and Kid Charlemagne. ‘My old school’ was a stomper;
Also, luckily, there were no Becker wigs, no looky-likies. This was just great music played and sung by musicians with smiles on their faces.
Just too much fun and so good. That was in spite of having to drive back through pouring rain. Of course what attracted me in the first place was the whole crazy idea of a ten piece Steely Dan tribute band, too big for any stage and never any chance of being economic. Their secret? Its for fun.
Note: This is an edited version taken from the Neil Harris blog. Thanks Neil!