Concert Review – The Royal Scam – Steely Dan at the Orpheum Boston

And they wandered in
From the city of St. John
Without a

Spotify link

Sitting in a dead-end street across from the Boston Common, The Orpheum Theater – it says here – is one of “the oldest theaters in the United States. It was built in 1852 and was originally known as the Boston Music Hall, the original home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Some good stuff was recorded there and released, even years later – part of Police Live!; An Allman Brothers album with them in front of the theater on the cover; a legendary 1994 Pearl Jam show. U2 were broadcast from there.

I like the Orpheum. It’s a 2700-seat theatre and it reminds me greatly of the venues in NYC where I first got into concert-going lo those many years ago – Felt Forum, Academy of Music, Fillmore East. Back then we were all young and long-haired. Now, well, now we just reminisce and bore everybody. (“Hey man, I seen Hendrix 850 times, dude.”)

Anyway, when I found out the Dan were doing a residency at the Orpheum a few months back, my first thought was – how can I not go? I’ve been on a self-imposed moratorium on concert-going for several months, just because I was burning out on it.

The band were going to perform 5 nights over the course of a week, each night highlighting a different album “+ hits,” the last night being an all-hits night. I procrastinated on getting tickets then scrambled to see if anyone wanted to go to any of the nights. I probably go to 60% of my shows solo so if no one wanted to go, no biggie. People I asked were interested but didn’t want to spend the money, weren’t otherwise available, or hate the seats there. (They are kinda tight)

The albums were – Aja, Fagen’s solo Nightfly, Gaucho, The Royal Scam and the “hits” night. (Notice the lean towards the jazzy Dan and away from the “rock” Dan.) My first choice was hits as we saw the band a few years back with that theme and it was great. But that was the final night and it was not only largely sold out, but the (I guess) demand pricing jacked orchestra seats up to 700 bucks.

Given price and availability, I went with The Royal Scam. From the time it came out till now I have never thought that Scam was a great album. I think it’s a very good album with four of their best songs – “Kid Charlemagne,” “The Caves of Altamira,” “Don’t Take Me Alive” and the title tune. But I figured that with a 13-piece ensemble, they’d kick the other ones up with solos and such and they did. (Note to Donald Fagen – women don’t have to just be backup singers. They are also fully capable of playing instruments.)

At that point, I suddenly realized that a guy I work with told me Royal Scam was his favorite album of all time. By anybody. I checked in with him, he hemmed and hawed but like all good music nuts, could not resist and picked up a ticket. (Stay tuned for a funny story on this at the end.)

Steely Dan came on after a great three-piece organ-driven jazz group called the Pat Bianchi trio. I give the Dan credit for respecting their audience enough to know we’d sit and listen to them. You should too, here.

Unfortunately, doing the great “Kid Charlemagne,” we had the usual “dude-in-front-of-me-sits-in-the-wrong-seat-then-stands-there-while-the-usher-yells-something-at-him” kerfuffle, causing me to miss half that song. The problem, I think, with bands doing entire albums is they come out not yet on fire and have to play essentially an encore song firsr. It felt to me like the ensemble didn’t warm up until “Don’t Take Me Alive.”

“The Fez” was strange. Fagen sauntered off stage and the backup singers sang the tune in – French? Not sure. “Haitian Divorce” was the highlight of the next three and then a great “Royal Scam.” A guy in front of me jumped out of his seat every time that thump! came down in the song. A crowd favorite.

No break and the band rolled in to a bunch of goodies (alas no “Pretzel Logic.)

  • “Time Out of Mind.” Nice groove.
  • “Aja.” Heh-heh, yeah. Fuck. With the whole sax and drum solo thing. Killer.
  • “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” – Crowd singalong
  • “Black Friday” Oddly, didn’t seem to be as recognized. Are you kidding me? A great song.
  • “Dirty Work” – Fagen mentioned it was originally sung by David Palmer. Then he left the stage and backup singers traded verses.
  • “Bodhisattva”-  They should play this at my funeral just to fuck with everybody’s heads. My biggest problem all night was how buried in the mix the solos were.
  • “My Old School” – About the days at Bard College. Such a crowd favorite that their tech guys lights the audience when it comes to the ‘whoa, no’ parts. Same as they do for “Yes there’s gas in the car.” We are willing sheep, and so, comply.

Encore – “Reelin’ in the Years,” a song I should be deathly sick of but I am not. And guys, next time bring back the Boston Rag.

A great show and if I had to do it over again I think that Aja is a stronger album all the way through. But I quibble.

Social notes – the couple next to me (’50’s?) flew in from Dublin just for these shows! They stayed all week and went to the Aja and Scam nights. I sat next to the woman and she slung musical shit with the best of them. I should have given her my site URL. She could tell you what tune it was in a second, some of the background stuff, etc. She even watches those YouTube videos that explain their songs. Sigh. In the next life she will be Mrs. Music Enthusiast.

Remember that guy I told you got a ticket? That guy I work with? Well, recall I had seats in row MM Orchestra. My guy had managed to score Row C. How the hell did you buy one two days later and get a better seat, asks I? Just lucky, he smugly answers.

So we’re in the lobby and he’s pounding down his fifth (at least) beer of the night to my 1 1/2. I tell him I’m going in to see the jazz band. “Good luck with your loser seats,” he taunts with a grin. Grrrr!

But my seat turned out to be dead center, 8 or 9 rows back. Fantastic. I texted him and told him. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Him – “Are you in the mezzanine?”
Me – “Orchestra.”
Him – “I’m 20 rows back!
Me – “Ha. I guess they start with double letters and work back to single. Good luck with your loser seats.”
Him – “LOL”



“I’d like to thank my partner who couldn’t be here tonight.” – Donald Fagen

11 thoughts on “Concert Review – The Royal Scam – Steely Dan at the Orpheum Boston

  1. I love Royal Scam – one of my favourite Dan records, and it would be fun to see live, as a lot of the appeal is the playing from Carlton and Purdie.


    1. Yes, I would love to see that too but alas, only on record I’m afraid. One of the guitarist was a guy named Jon Herington whose name wasn’t familiar to me but my new Irish friends knew. He got involved with the band back around Two Against Nature. He acquitted himself well to the extent his solos could be heard above the band.

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  2. A fantastic album that will get the CB treatment (Who gives a shit CB?). I love the tag on the take. “Good luck with your loser seats”. That is the best. I take it that you work with a few teenagers. CB would fit in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, this guy is like, 50. He’s actually a really good guy, just a bit of a wise-ass. It was just the usual ball-busting guy shit. But man, that was a satisfying moment, I’ll tell you that. I look forward to the CB treatment of said album. Which, by the way, I have been listening to today.

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  3. That’s cool you caught Steely Dan. I was tempted to see them again at the Beacon Theatre, where they also played a series of shows earlier this month. But I saw them twice last year, including a special performance of my favorite album “Aja,” so I really couldn’t justify it. Hoping Donald Fagen will continue, perhaps next year I do it again! 🙂


    1. He says he will indeed continue to go back, jack and do it again for as long as he can. He will live night by night, in a traveling minstrel show. He is determined to be the Tom Brady of musicians, still on his game. That said, I don’t recall if you mentioned it but while his voice is by no means shot, it doesn’t sound as strong as it once did.

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      1. Prior to my two shows last year, I had read that Fagen’s voice was no longer up to par. But during both concerts I thought he sounded great. That being said, I have no comparison to earlier years, since those were my first Dan shows.


        1. Our one and only Dan show was at the Wang Theater in Beantown where, if memory serves, you saw Neil Young. I could not for the life of me recall what year it was but research says it must have been 2009. I know this because they played the old rock standard ‘Dirty Water’ with the refrain, “Oh Boston, you’re my home.” And as far as I can tell, that was the only time. Now how could I forget that? And yeah, Fagen’s nasally oddball voice was in good form that night. Happens to the best of them with age I’m afraid.

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