The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan have a lot in common, so touring together seemed like a good pairing. Either band could have been the headliner but the Doobies played in support of the Dan.
In the 1970s, the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan ruled the airwaves, particularly FM radio that did not just play Top 40 songs. FM jocks went for deeper, often stronger cuts from the albums. Today, songs like “Black Water”, “Do It Again”, “China Grove”, “Reelin in the Year,” “What a Fool Believes”, and “Deacon Blues” are classic rock radio staples.
From 1972 to 1981, the Doobie Brothers had eight studio albums in the Billboard top 25, and eight top 15 songs on the chart. During that same period, Steely Dan landed six of seven studio albums in the Billboard top 20, and scored 10 songs in the top 40.
Both bands disbanded in the early 1980s. The Doobies regrouped in the late 1980s and Steely Dan reformed in the early 1990s. The Doobies were always a touring band as their songs were written to be performed live. Steely Dan quit playing live in the mid 1970s, and only embraced the concert stage after they reformed. The studio was their workshop where they crafted their songs. As the record industry and audience tastes changed, touring became their livelihood. In the past decade, Steely Dan toured annually. Outside of the years the Doobies were disbanded, they have never stopped touring.
The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers have moved many musicians through the band in more than 45 years. The constant has been guitarist Pat Simmons. Co-founder Tom Johnston, who was largely absent during the Michael McDonald years, rejoined when the band reformed in the late 1980s, and with Simmons, has returned the sound to their early years. At their concert on June 18, 2018, twelve of the songs they played were from albums prior to Takin’ It to the Streets, including five from The Captain and Me.
The core of the Doobies are Simmons, Johnston and John McFee, but they are supported by some fine musicians including Billy Payne from Little Feat. Simmons and Johnston are the main songwriters and vocalists, but they shared the stage with bass player John Cowan, who added the soulfulness that Michael McDonald had brought to the band.
The Doobies gained their audience with guitar-riffs and tight vocal harmonies, and nothing has changed from that winning formula. In concert, the band provides superb versions of their songs but aren’t afraid to embrace some extended solos, including featuring their saxophone player, Marc Russo, on many songs.
If you have seen the Doobies in concert before, which you probably have, you don’t get tired of hearing songs you know by heart. To their credit, Simmons and Johnston change their set list with each tour, although you know you’ll hear about two-thirds of the songs – the crowd would riot if they didn’t hear them, but they will offer a few deep cuts or change out a few of the more familiar songs. If you came to hear “What a Fool Believes” or “It Keeps You Runnin’”, you might have been disappointed. This version of the band is more about the guitar-themed songs of the early, and more recent years. And that’s just alright with me.
Kansas City set list (an album on which it appeared)
Natural Thing – The Captain and Me
Rockin’ Down the Highway – Toulouse Street
Road Angel – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
South City Midnight Lady – The Captain and Me
Dark Eyed Cajun Woman – The Captain and Me
Jesus Is Just Alright – Toulouse Street
Eyes of Silver – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
World Gone Crazy – World Gone Crazy
Takin’ It to the Streets – Takin’ It to the Streets
The Doctor – Cycles
Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) – Stampede
Black Water – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
Long Train Runnin’ – The Captain and Me
China Grove – The Captain and Me
Listen to the Music – Toulouse Street
Steely Dan isn’t much different from the last time I saw them, the notable difference is the absence of co-founder Walter Becker, who died in 2017. Becker added some guitar work to the set and handled much of the talking between songs. Donald Fagen remains the center of the band, and he picks up the gauntlet from his friend, although Fagen is not a chatty guy, he lets the intricate musical arrangements and talented band take flight with each song. Fagen even involves the band in introducing each other.
In the studio, Fagen and Becker took months crafting their recordings, and even longer with Aja and Gaucho. Their songs were finely crafted, as are the live versions. The arrangements are expansive versions of these dense studio recordings. It is amazing to watch these talented performers weave the different musical threads into sophisticated arrangements that not only are faithful to the spirit of the originals but give them songs an extra gear, if that’s possible.
I saw Steely Dan about four years ago, having the pleasure of a front row seat in a wonderful theater. That concert’s set list did not embrace many of their classic songs, although the performance was superb. Fagen and Becker were known for not wanting to play some of their familiar songs, even though concertgoers expected it. I was braced for a similar experience but with the exception of one song (“Keep That Same Old Feeling”), it was a Steely Dan hit list, or most of their hits. Missing were “Deacon Blues” and “Do It Again”. I would have preferred “Do It Again” to “Dirty Work”, a lesser hit. Since they played nearly everything from Aja, I cannot complain too much that “Deacon Blues” was absent from the set.
Fagen, reminds one of Ray Charles, with his sunglasses and how he moves his head while he sings. Steely Dan has always been soulful and it was quite apparently that night. The arrangements incredibly contained jazz, funk and soulful stylings all at the same time. It was easy to see why some many in attendance were on their feet, their bodies caught up in the groove.
The band returned for one very good encore song, “Reelin’ In the Years”, one of the other hits from their debut album. In spirit with the other songs, this version had a high trajectory and surpassed it. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm and everyone was on their feet as Fagen walked off the stage as the band performed the outro.
Hallelujah Time (intro)
Black Cow – Aja
Black Friday – Katy Lied
Hey Nineteen – Gaucho
Aja – Aja
FM (No Static at All) – FM soundtrack
Time Out of Mind – Gaucho
Kid Charlemagne – The Royal Scam
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – Pretzel Logic
Bodhisattva – Countdown to Ecstasy
Dirty Work – Can’t Buy a Thrill
Home at Last – Aja
Peg – Aja
Keep That Same Old Feeling (The Crusaders cover)
Josie – Aja
My Old School – Countdown to Ecstasy
Reelin’ In the Years – Can’t Buy a Thrill
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (outro)
More than three hours after it started, the concert was over. Two bands, united in their musical journeys, more than 45 years later, were united with their audience.