The Horns, Watford. WD17 3RL
Stanley Dee comprise Cavan as frontman and principal vocalist with Amelia, Katy and Jen backing singers with their own featured spots. Alto and tenor saxes are played by Derek and Paul respectively, trumpet, flugelhorn, 12-string acoustic rhythm guitar and occasional vocals are from Steve, guitar from Darren, keyboards by Keith, bass by Mark and drums by Don.
The gig was scheduled to start at 9:30pm and I arrived at about 8:45 as the band were completing their soundcheck, culminating in a repeated run-through of the chorus of “Midnight Cruiser”. The band and the pub’s sound man were satisfied so the band trooped off the pub’s slightly-crowded stage until start time. At 9:30 they were all back and ready to go.
It must be said that “Can’t Buy A Thrill” works pretty well as a distinctly front-loaded vinyl album but is problematic as a live performance, played in sequence. “Do It Again”‘s all-percussion intro is not suited to a slightly-rowdy pub crowd but once the keyboards etc. come into play it’s all systems go.
The surprise with this outfit’s rendition of the song is that female vocalist Amelia takes the lead, with the other 3 singers harmonising on the chorus. Great guitar from Darren. Also they’ve added a rather good brass arrangement to beef up the ending segment. Katy takes lead vocal very effectively on “Dirty Work” with Amelia, Jen and Cavan harmonising as necessary. Good sax solo from Derek and fine work from the other brass players. Cavan finally gets to sing lead on “Kings” and “Midnite Cruiser”. More superb guitar from Darren. Jen takes lead vocals for “Only A Fool Would Say That”. They blast through “Reelin’ In The Years” with guitar pyrotechnics from Darren and the brass section thickening out the sound very effectively. Lots of Audience Participation by this time. The strange dynamics of the album become apparent now as they go into “Fire In The Hole” which is not, to my mind, one of The Dan’s finest. My memory of their rendition of “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” is a little shaky but I seem to recall Katy and Cavan sharing the vocal on this (mainly Katy) and the other two joining in on the chorus. A blast through “Change Of The Guard” gets the crowd excited again but then comes the rather tricky “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” which they perform admirably, with Steve coming up front to swap vocal lines and harmonise with Jen and Katy. Cavan and Amelia sit this one out. Not the best of numbers to go into an interval from, but that’s how the album was sequenced all those years ago.
After a break of about 15-20 minutes they assemble back onstage and roar into “Black Friday”, a superb opener which they usually start their opening set with. Guitar pyrotechnics again from Darren, with a good punchy horn arrangement to drive it along. The crowd go nuts. Beautiful horns and precise vocal harmonies next on “The Caves Of Altamira”, followed by more of the same on “Black Cow”. These pearls are followed by “Doctor Wu” and “FM” and the audience are lapping it up. They roar as the band start into “Hiatian Divorce”, singing along lustily. The brass section get a breather on “With A Gun”, apart from Steve who plays rhythm guitar. Punters are still in singalong mode and they follow that with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”. Next they take the opportunity to have a go at “Rose Darling”, a fairly new one in their repertoire which to my mind needs a little more work on the tricky vocal harmonies. They stray into solo Fagen territory with a great version of his cover of “Ruby Baby”. Great vocal harmonies and a nice funky brass arrangement on the outro. Steve steps up to the mic again to sing lead on “Josie”, the other four singers harmonising on the chorus while he adds his trumpet back into the brass arrangement that underpins it. “Pretzel Logic” is next, giving Darren another couple of opportunities to tear it up. Cavan sings lead with the girls harmonising where needed, on all but the “I stepped up to the platform…” bit where Amelia takes over for a bit.
“My Old School” allows Darren to let rip again with some nice tight horn section work. The audience are still in singalong mode. Onwards and upwards to “Kid Charlemagne” (with audience participation – “Yes, there’s gas in the car!”) with a carefully-crafted backing vocal arrangement and more guitar solo wonderment. They finish off by a headlong charge through “Bodhisattva” with another punchy brass arrangement beefing it up. The audience is demanding more so they give them a second rendition of “Reelin’ In The Years” and then that is our lot for the evening, and indeed for 2018 as their next 3 scheduled gigs are not until February 7th, March 8th and April 28th.
Every age group from late teens to geriatrics. Those who scoff at Steely Dan’s music as being only for nerds might have been surprised at the number of females present. Those who think The Dan cold and clinical might have been surprised by the amount of dancing, jiggling, swaying and singing/bellowing-along.
It made me think..
An 11-piece band playing mostly free-entry pub gigs and only the occasional paid-entry one, cannot possibly be in it for financial reward. It further amazed me that the singers used no crib sheets and the musicians no written music despite the complexity of the material. They obviously know this stuff really well.