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Steely Dan in the Hunter Valley 2011 – Vale Walter Becker

It was sad news today hearing that Walter Becker had died, one half of that amazing musical collaboration that has created the various incarnations of Steely Dan.

I’m a long time fan and a Steely Dan tragic. I wrote a post a few years back on a wonderful outdoor  performance in the Hunter Valley where Steely Dan featured, so I thought I would reproduce that review today in memory of Walter Becker and his quirky genius.

One of the nicest ways to enjoy live music – particularly rock acts – is an outdoor concert at one of the wineries in the Hunter Valley NSW. Part concert, part festival, part picnic, a Day on the Green is seriously cool, and very retro.

I have been to quite a few over the last few years, and it’s now the only way I want to enjoy rock music. I’m tired of large internal arena spaces where you’re seated so far away that binoculars are the best way to enjoy the act you’ve paid mega dollars to see.

On the Green the buzz of several thousand people, with a variety of ages from those not yet born when the bands were in their heyday, to the seriously geriatric, all gathered to listen, watch, drink, eat and mingle, is exhilarating.

The night is always clear, moonlit and starlit. I don’t know how the promoters manage it. A good upstairs connection I suppose! There’s something about being in the country, with that vast expanse of land and sky that is awe-inspiring, and makes you realise just how constrained our city lives are…

Santana, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carole King were all memorable winery concerts. But as a Steely Dan tragic, the two concerts I’ve been to in the Hunter are my standouts. However I can’t tell you much about the 2007 gig. It was Steely Dan’s first time in Australia. I was so overcome with actually seeing them in the flesh that I sat completely transfixed, unable to do anything except feast my ears and eyes on the band that I was finally seeing live. I couldn’t even bring myself to take photos.

In 2011, I am relieved to say I was less awe struck and up to viewing them a little more critically and actually documenting my memories with photos.

I should mention the other act of the night was Steve Winwood. If you’re a fan of the man or of Traffic, you would have had a blast. He looked and sounded great! No apparent aging unlike some other rock legends who look exhumed or exsanguinated rather than animated…

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys from the album of the same name was a standout.

As this is not really a concert review I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan 2011 tour line-up were fabulous.

The Miles High Big Band
featuring The Embassy Brats
Jim Beard Keyboards
Keith Carlock Drums
Jon Herington Guitar
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery Vocals
Michael Leonhart Trumpet, Keys
Cindy Mizelle Vocals
Jim Pugh Trombone
Roger Rosenberg Baritone Saxophone
Catherine Russell Vocals
Freddie Washington Bass
Walt Weiskopf Saxophone

Just listening to the opening riff of Josie gave me goose bumps. The reference to Muswellbrook in Black Friday from the 1975 album Katy Lied, at a concert in the heart of the Hunter was funny and sweet and somewhat disconcerting from our American friends. Every number was consummately performed, at least in the somewhat biased view of this writer.



Bruce Springsteen – A Day on the Green


A late summer evening in the beautiful Hunter Valley. A year after the Neil Young concert, we were back On the Green for the Boss.


Hype, gossip and a little hysteria had heralded the concert. His other Australian gigs had been sell outs, so we were really looking forward to this!

Rain had threatened earlier in the day, but as always for Hunter concerts, the night was balmy and warm. The biggest audience the Hunter had ever seen made for a noisy, buzzy crowd, but they were good natured and friendly, some albeit a little under the weather as the night wore on…

We’re great people watchers, so we were fascinated by the crowd  – everyone from lavender rinse grannies, to dads and daughters, groupie mums, as well the usual concert suspects, with tats and T shirts and an amazing ability to consume copious amounts of alcohol.


So, the concert.

Bruce walks on stage and with one unison movement 22,000 people got up from the grass or their seats and stayed up!  Three  hours later we were still standing and could have stayed on. Bruce seemed to get more energy as the night progressed, and we got the feeling that he could have stayed too.

A fabulous concert!  As much showman as musician, he worked the crowd and gave them whatever they wanted, although reading afterwards about the gig online and getting feedback from other concert goers, I had the feeling that the concert repartee and audience participation were maybe carefully engineered…

Nevertheless, the concert was three hours of great rock and roll, tinged with a little folk and some interesting covers.

My standouts were American Skin (41 Shots), High Hopes, and the Ghost of Tom Joad.


Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the Hunter Valley March 2013

Another glorious starlit night. The cirrus clouds swept in, but the rain did not.

The audience gathered on the Green on a balmy March evening was anticipating the arrival of the Legend with a distinct frisson of elderly excitement…

The usual Woollahra meets Wahroonga middle class set were less in evidence last night than at previous Clapton,Taylor, King or Santana gigs. Instead, pony tails, dreadlocks and tats were de rigueur for much of this audience of die hard old rockers.

But if they were expecting Heart of Gold and Harvest and a warm and fuzzy acoustic set from a gracefully aged rocker they were in for a rude shock.

In-yer-face grungy, gutsy heavy metal cum neo-punk is this writer’s description of the assault on the minds and ears of the audience. I loved it! It took a couple of numbers for me to get its measure, but by then I was swept into the tidal wave of the music in a some what trance like state.

The set list was pretty much dominated by the 2012 album Psychedelic Pill. But no amount of my previous playing of the album – at whatever volume – prepared me for the business of the night. Some of Quirky’s companions were less impressed and resorted to covering their ears once or twice for fear that the hearing aids already ordered for their twilight years might be needed sooner rather than later…

Some charmingly annoying English guys in the row behind us gave a running commentary on the gig, kind of epitomising the vibe with their vociferous debate about how long was too long for a guitar solo, and continually punctuating the escalating drunken discussion with “it’s Neil Young!” Yes we know! Their good humour and Python-esque banter made for a really great atmosphere and an entertaining evening.

Crazy Horse is a tight lineup. Despite my worries that an ambulance should be on standby in case of heart attack, stroke or burst blood vessels, their energy was phenomenal and the playing consummate – Billy Talbot on bass and vocals, Ralph Molina on drums and vocals and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar and vocals. The camaraderie between Neil and the band was so obvious  – a regular love-in – as shown in the photo below from the gig.


Yes we did get Heart of Gold, and although I am absolutely converted to in-yer-face rock I’m nostalgic and I just loved the rendition.

Walk like a Giant and Ontario were fantastic, but for me Ramada Inn was the standout. I was only sorry they didn’t do Driftin’ Back, my current listening fave from Psychedelic Pill.


The gig over, the thousands strong crowd made their way to the fleets of buses, with good natured banter, as we patiently waited for the buses to make their slow progress to the exits. Much discussion on the bus home about how loud is too loud, Neil’s faded Aboriginal flag t-shirt and the mysterious bra that appeared on his guitar at the end of the gig….

For me, contented, it was home to bed, the Quiet Space on RN, and the dulcet voice of Paul Gough.

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