I must say that I had a smile on my face from the time World Party started to their last note about 55 minutes later. What better way to start than with ‘Put The Message In The Box’, on of his many songs that say so much?
In my book Karl Wallinger is a bloody genius and it is a delight to have him back on the road and maybe even with a new recording 2008. The prospect is tantalising. I put him on a par with neil Finn, Difford & Tilbrook and (yes) even Paul McCartney as one of the finest songwriters of the past two decades.
During a set that turned out to be a bout 15 minutes longer than I was expecting Wallinger ran through the World Party catalogue, including a couple of numbers from the latest album Dumbing Up (if you call a 2000 recording latest).
Wallinger asks the big questions and seems to specialise in the question as song title: ‘What Does It Mean Now?’ ‘Is It Like Today,’ ‘Is It too Late?’ I bet you don’t go to another gig this year where a musician namechecks Bertrand Russell!
The lines that kept reverberating in my mind on this weekend of the APEC Summit was ‘You will pay tomorrow’ and ‘I don’t want to sail on this ship of fools’ – words as relevant now as when they were first penned more than a decade and a half ago.
While the sound started a little shakily, it soon smoothed out and I think that even those in what appeared to be a sell-out audience who were not that familiar with Wallinger’s songs quickly became instant converts.
Steely Dan, on the other hand did not have quite such a visceral connection for me but their show was technically mind-blowing. It seemed amazing to me, and to quite a few others who remarked on it, that we were watching the Dan in Australia for the very first time.
It is astonishing to hear those classic songs from albums that boasted the pinnacle of production when they were released (some of them over thirty years ago) sound pristine on stage. Note to all sound engineers: you don’t have to deafen the audience to achieve perfect sound.
Whoever mixed the show deserved some sort of merit badge or an elephant stamp of approval. Only the band’s sound at the Acura Stage at this year’s Jazz Fest was as good. But then that was an afternoon show and I think the music has much more of an ‘evening’ feel to it.
Walter Becker and Donald Fagan are strange cats but the fact they are still working together after forty years says much for the chemistry between them. The music is sophisticated, adult, impeccably played and idiosyncratic. There is a ‘jazzy’ feel to some of the instrumental breaks and the lyrics remain obtuse and often surreal (who knows what was going on when some of the songs were written) but this gives them a sort of timeless quality. You can still put on your Steely Dan albums and they do not feel dated at all.
Donald Fagan, anchored at his keyboard, is singing as well as we recall from the albums – not bad for a guy who turns 60 next January. His slightly younger partner, guitarist Walter Becker, is the joker in the pack and provided an amusing commentary mid-‘Hey Nineteen’ and took the lead on ‘Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More.’
The Steely Dan band features guitarist Jon Herrington (introduced by Becker as the musical director), Freddie Washington on bass, drummer Keith Carlock, a four-piece horn section including Jim Pugh on sax , an additional keyboard player and backing singers Cindy Mizelle and Carolyn Leonhard-Escoffery (who share the lead on ‘Dirty Work’). It is a finely honed group capable of reproducing all the Steel Dan classics (apart from ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ and ‘Do It Again’) with unerring accuracy and clarity.
The setlist also included ‘Peg,’ ‘Aja,’ ‘Black Friday, ‘Two Against Nature,’ ‘Kid Charlemagne,’ ‘Babylon Sisters and ‘Bodhisattva’ along with a fabulous encore of ‘My Old School’ (my all-time favourite Steel Dan song).
If you have been umming and erring about going to see Steel Dan during the rest of the tour, do yourself a favour, as they say and enjoy the wonderful World Party and Stephen Cummings into the bargain. You may never see Becker and Fagen here again !