In Praise of the Grown-Up Rock Show

Donald Fragen of Steely Dan performs onstage at Beacon Theatre on October 12, 2016 in New York City. Credit: Santiago Felipe / Getty Images

A couple of nights ago, my wife and I plopped down in our expensive, velvet-covered seats, in a historically significant, acoustically superb venue, with our premium-enough Scotch, and we rocked out. No one crowd-surfed or drop-kicked their snare drum or fell off the stage. We did not get insulted or spilled on or groped in the crush of the crowd. I did not lose a shoe. And yet, it was still pretty glorious.

It’s easy to mock the adult rock experience. It’s anathema to the recklessness and exuberance of smashed guitars and banged out chords, and fat lips suffered in “the pit.” But rock is sixty-some-odd years old, and some of the music you want to see played, and played well, is from bands that just don’t roll like that anymore, if they ever did. And few rock shows exemplify the adult experience better than Steely Dan’s annual three-week residency at the Beacon Theater. For one, the show starts pretty much on time. No one needs to be kicked out, no tickets double-checked before you take your comfy velvet seat and settle in to watch too-cranky septugenarians (and their crack band) work through their impressive catalog in the company of corporate lawyers and gastroenterologists and a guy you swear is your Uncle Norm. None of whom, by the way, spent the show trying to capture it all on their phones.

And because it’s Steely Dan, the catalog we’re working through consists of nine proper albums, starting with 1972’s subversively slick Can’t Buy a Thrill, most of which land somewhere in the pantheon between "strong contender" and “undeniable." (Even haters of their particular rich-boy r&b will cop to a certain level of excellence.) In baseball terms, they are a stand-up double to Cooperstown. And because they’re old and cranky — the kind of indoor types who learned to cherish the comforts of their well-appointed homes since junior year at Bard — they thrive off-road, in a familiar venue (ideally within walking distance of their pied a terre) that they can play night after night for three weeks straight.

And again, because they’re Steely Dan — finicky audiophiles who still gripe about the mixing of 1975’s Katy Lied — they want every show to sound great, and they don’t want to leave it to some sound guy to make sense of a new venue every night. The end result is all you want in an adult rock show: a faithful, energetic, excellent interpretation of about 20 great songs that won’t be heard live again — at least not until next year.