Steely Dan at the Chicago Theater, 7/15/08

July 16, 2008

We went to see Steely Dan last night at the Chicago Theater. A few weeks ago we saw the reunion of Return to Forever there, and I was struck by the poor sound quality. Last night was the same problem – we were in the middle balcony section and it was still too loud and distorted.

I used to use Steely Dan tunes as an example in my arranging sections of my computer music classes, as a model of great transparent writing – you could clearly hear every part – great economy of composition. Apparently no one told the sound guys at the Chicago Theater. (Link to a discussion of how they got the “Steely Dan Sound.”)

Donald Fagen’s voice has a strange quality that has been one of the hallmarks of the SD sound for 35+ years. He was at times almost impossible to hear. The bass was always muddy, as was the background vocal mix. I think just turning things down would have helped. I know SD has used this drummer for years, and apparently really likes him, but he’s really busy and was mixed way too upfront, especially in the midrange. It made for a somewhat underwhelming performance. Lots of stuff just sounded the same because the subtleties were lost. The quirky lyrics were almost unintelligible.

Jazz organ wizard Joey DiFrancesco opened the concert. His bass lines were done on the second manual of the organ and on the bass pedals, and they were inaudible. The drummer was way too loud. Does anyone do sound checks at that theater? We are going to hear Earth, Wind and Fire there in two weeks. Hopefully, better engineering by then.

All in all, not the best concert environment I’ve been to. The audience loved them, though, and the concert was sold out, with another one added in August. Good times for Walter and Donald. I like the tunes and the grooves, but I don’t really get the lyrics, but then we were sober at the concert and I’ve never smoked the wacky weed…so maybe I’m not the target audience!

One comment

  1. Went to th 8/16/08 Steely Dan Chicago Theater concert – yeah – way too loud. We sat in the middle upper balcony. Sounded very distrorted and way too loud – beyond pain threshold. This is the 1st concert I’ve ever had to actaully leave because of that. The vocals were barely audible. Should’ve brought some Hearos.

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