The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan at the 3Arena, Dublin, 28 October 2017
“I didn’t know you cared.”
What is likely just a throwaway remark from Donald Fagan near the end of the set could also be seen as a humble testament to the endurance of the music that he, now alone, represents. This music is still important. Both Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers had their start in the early ‘70s – which places them both nearly fifty years down the road. That their music has the capacity to draw a sold-out crowd to the 3Arena, as well as an extra date due to demand, clearly keeps them so passionate about performing.
The Doobie Brothers kick off their 80-minute set with the opening bars of Jesus is Just Alright. A four-man wall of guitars, with each member also delivering a piece of the pitch-perfect vocal harmonies that defined the band’s sound, makes for a strong opener. Rockin’ Down The Highway follows with a rendition that somehow sounds exactly like the recording, but better.
The band continues to deliver all of the hits one would expect, while also giving a home to some of the most popular songs from their highly regarded ‘The Captain and Me’ album, includes Dark Eyed Cajun Woman and Clear As The Driven Snow. Each song is delivered with unparallelled precision and a rollicking energy. The songs are brought to the life by the band’s commitment to quality and individual expression, with plenty of solos and instrumental variety.
Unfortunately though, there were several power outages during the Doobies Brothers’ performance. After Takin It To The Streets, the sound cuts out and leaves the band and the audience wondering how to fill these few minutes. A forgivable anomaly if not for the multiple times it cut out later during key song moments. While the whole crowd started dancing for Long Train Runnin’, the sound cut out just as Tom Johnston was about to use the opening riff to kick the song back into gear. The band were blissfully unaware as the crowd watched a mimed performance of what should have been a great build up. Later, the irony is not lost on the crowd as the sound is cut once again during Listen To The Music.
It is a frustrating glitch in an otherwise superb performance. In time, it will become a footnote to the dominant memory of a band of this calibre giving a new lease of life to some of the great songs of rock n’ roll history. Though a residual fear now remains that Steely Dan’s performance may be marred by similar problems.
After the Steely Dan band warm up with a jazzy instrumental, Donald Fagan casually strolls onto the stage, armed with his melodica, and launches the show with Green Flower Street. Fortunately, there are no technical problems. Fagan is cool as a breeze as he works the microphone, throwing his head back as he sings each line, clearly internalising the funky rhythm.
As Fagan takes his position at the keyboard, the band coalesce around Black Cow, the first of many tracks to be performed from their magnum opus ‘Aja’. Few bands can match Steely Dan’s pristine attention to detail. Any band that is tasked with performing these songs must be of the highest competency. And they are. The musicianship is beyond praise.
There is a big cheer for Hey Nineteen, where Fagan, after the first line confidently asserts “You know this one!”. The audience knows all these songs and the reception is always warm. After another nod to ‘The Nightfly’ album with New Frontier, the band whip out Aja – a delight to hear live.
The loss of Fagan’s writing partner Walter Becker in September is no secret to Steely Dan fans. He has not been replaced and Fagan’s tribute to him is dignified. “Here’s a tune that my partner wrote a long time ago. He used to do it in the show. It’s from his album that was called ’11 Tracks of Whack’ and I’m gonna try to do it. It’s called Book of Liars”.
The audience is treated to a number of highlights from the band with no shortage of a wide variety of solos from all sections. Backing vocalists The Dannettes (get it?) offer a unique perspective of Dirty Work, originally sang by David Palmer. The triple hit of Peg, My Old School and Kid Charlemagne is particularly strong. The main set ends here but there’s always the one song that every band is expected to play.
Reelin’ in the Years, while certainly not among the best songs of the night, is certainly the most widely recognised, with many in the audience probably having flashbacks to the RTE show of the same name. It is here that Fagan tells the audience “I didn’t know you cared”.
His decision to keep their music alive for as long as he can, even after losing Becker, is validated by the sold-out crowd who care deeply about this music. Fans will be forever grateful to members of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers who not only keep the music alive, but keep it kicking.