It has been said by many that you either really hate or truly love the ‘70s-era jazz rock band Steely Dan. But it’s easy to love their premier cover band, Steely Dane.
The award-winning Madison-based group played their hearts out to throngs of late 50-somethings at the Pabst Theater on Friday, Jan. 4. Its 15+ band members are the best that Madison has to offer, playing drums, guitar, bass and horns, and showcasing the vocal chops of various members.
But although Steely Dane’s vocals and instrumentation echoed the original band almost perfectly, what makes the group stand out is its energy. The band’s co-music director, Dave Adler, gyrates on stage when he has a break from playing the keyboard, while he’s singing and basically anytime he can squeeze a dance move in. His anxious energy almost echoes far younger pop singers like Lorde.
Though the rest of the crew is more subdued, their deep appreciation for their source material and insane talent complements Adler’s raw enthusiasm. Al Falaschi, who sings and plays the tenor sax, epitomized this energy, enthusiastically and gorgeously singing a tune, returning to the sax and singing along during down time.
Although the band is energetic and sounds amazing, seeing them live may not be for everyone (most obviously, those who dislike Steely Dan), at least at first. At the Pabst Theater, for example, as a 23-year-old, I was painfully out of place in the crowd of middle-aged folks who had clearly rocked out for years to Steely Dan’s tunes. However, once I was able to settle into my awkwardness and get lost in the music, the band and crowd’s enthusiasm and the group’s near-flawless execution made the concert a treat.
A highlight was their performance of “Josie,” which tells the narrative of a fiery heroine with passion, enthusiasm and great jazz-styled instrumentation. “Bodhisattva” and the hit “I.G.Y (What a Beautiful World)” were also particularly effective, partly due to the band’s gritty vocal performances.
Unfortunately, Steely Dane will not be returning to Milwaukee in the first half of 2019, but they will be playing in nearby Kenosha in March and Madison in July, as well as various other venues across the state. They also might be making another appearance at Summerfest.