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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.

 

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Fleetwood Mac: Rocking into Retirement

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So we’re back in the Hunter Valley at Hope Estate for another concert from some Old Rockers. Fleetwood Mac were back in town. They had cancelled their 2013 tour after John McVie became ill. So it was good to see them back – and this was the best thing about the gig – Christine McVie was reunited with the band.

Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie and Christine McVie together again! The dream line-up.

Now I was sitting quite a way back, but with the help of giant video screens, it was obvious from the youthful appearance of the band members that “work” had been done. And quite a lot of work. Lindsey Buckingham looked like he had been embalmed… I found his orange colour quite disconcerting. Stevie Nicks looked good, she’d dropped some weight – but was she wearing a wig?? Can anyone of her age have that much blonde hair to swoosh? It was hard to see what John McVie looked like, he played bass upstage from the others. No Sting-like theatrics for this unobtrusive rocker. Mick Fleetwood looked just like always, he had apparently barely aged. Somewhat of a gentle giant, with the occasional manic moves on drums.

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Christine McVie was the standout. The oldest of the bunch, at 72 she looked really great – and sounded great. 16 years away from Fleetwood Mac and the rock and roll lifestyle have clearly had their benefits. Slim, energetic, giving it her all in her own numbers, she did none of the annoying prancing and dancing that Stevie and Lindsey indulged in for far too much of their time on stage. We were here for the music, not the geriatric calisthenics. Christine was worth the trip.

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It was a good concert but not a great concert. You got the feeling that they had done this gig time after time after time. There was no spontaneity, no straying from the set list. Even the stage patter sounded formulaic and rehearsed. Stevie greeted us with “I’ve never been to Hunter Valley”. We know, cause if you had, you’d know it’s The Hunter Valley.  The all important “the”.  And we know all about the Stevie/Lindsey dynamic, so we didn’t need to see some fake frolicking and lovey dove stuff during a couple of the numbers.

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But, all things considered, the Old Rockers gave us all the classics and pretty decently too. Lindsey’s guitar antics were pretty awesome and it’s clear he’s still got it musically. Mick’s manic drumming was pretty good too – highly energetic, what is he on?

 “Dreams”, “Rhiannon”, “Tusk”, “Sara”, “Gypsy”, “Little Lies” and “Go Your Own Way” were my favourites and they have stood the test of time. Stevie’s voice was a little low and husky, while Christine McVie sounded like she had just stepped out of the 70s.

The weather was not kind: drizzly rain and cool temperatures on what should have been a balmy spring night. The crowd was edgy, patrons were drunk rather than tipsy, and a scuffle broke out towards the end of the gig. We felt the 2 1/2 hour concert dragging. We were cold and wet and ready for the bus back home. Back at chez Shakey – Hunter Valley Country Lodge –  a hot shower and a liqueur muscat nightcap really warmed us up.

I’m sure the band would have slept well too, after the gig, dreaming of the money they had made on this tour, and perhaps thinking of retirement. Right? Right.

Oh, I should mention that the bonus at the concert was the support act Angus and Julia Stone. A great Australian brother and sister duo worth listening to.

Fleetwood Mac Hope Estate, 14 November 2015

 

 

Old Rockers Rock the Hunter: The Rolling Stones at Hope Estate 2014

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The prospect of another gig in the Hunter Valley sends a frisson of excitement through this aging (at least physically) and (slightly) arthritic frame: a weekend of fine wine, fine food, good company and of course music! And on this weekend in November I got all of the above, with maybe a few tiny reservations about the latter…

The Rolling Stones in Australia: it’s a gas! We were fully pumped for the occasion: a fine dinner at the inimitable Shakey Tables, the subject of other rapturous blog posts, here and also here on the previous night; rather a lot of good wine consumed; and in order to soak  up the atmosphere, we were able to arrive nice and early on the day. As one would expect, the average age of the audience was …well… old.

At previous gigs I do a lot of crowd watching to find out what the predominant vibe is. This weekend the beer gut was compulsory for males over the age of 35. I grabbed a few shots  – but it was kind of hard to take snaps in case I got my phone ripped from me or I got beaten up – there were some seriously mean beer guts out there, mostly sporting large Stones tee shirts emblazoned with the Famous Lips. I definitely didn’t want to get shirt fronted by one of those dudes!

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The concert was worthy of the hype. We got the Rolling Stones in fine form. There had been a worry that they might have cancelled, as they did their Victorian gig at Hanging Rock the week before. But Mick was clearly dealing with his throat infection, aided no doubt by handing over the vocals to Keith Richards for a few numbers mid set.

You can’t get away from the fact that these guys live and breathe rock and roll and do it with huge style, skill and even after 50 years, an obvious enjoyment for being on stage making music.  Mick, Keith and Ronnie bounced, gyrated and strutted the stage like aging peacocks, while Charlie, my personal fave, applied himself to some pretty amazing drumming with his trademark hauteur.

Thanks to Sharyn for Charlie’s photo!

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The audience loved it. We rose as one to our feet when rock royalty arrived, and just as we had done for Springsteen earlier this year, we stayed standing for the whole set. Numbers like Satisfaction became more an a capella audience experience, as we sang or shouted the lyrics; people bopped, tapped and danced in their seats.

I loved it all. Paint it Black, for nostalgia, Honky Tonk Women for Mick’s sass and sex appeal, and Sympathy for the Devil, for its rather pompous but broodingly dark lyrics, were standouts for me, the latter accompanied by a vast red firescape that engulfed the stage.

The staging was, to use that overworked epithet, simply awesome! A huge lighting rig, audience blinders, enormous banks of speakers, three – yes three! giant video screens with pristine resolution, and fireworks, all made for a spectacular audio-visual event.

My little gripe was that the audience patter formula, trotted out by every major rock act on tour, coming this time from Mick, was a bit too off the cuff and insincere.

” ‘Ow you doing? Awright?” with that slight Cockney twang. Did he really want to know? I don’t think so.

But hey – he’s Mick – he’s 71 and he wears tight jeans, size 28 inch waist, and he’s got knees I’d kill for! Sexy as, for every gender, it was a treat to see him perform. And the final line-up of the band at the end of the gig seemed to show that they still get genuine enjoyment from performing – we all left happy.

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Set List Saturday 15 November 2014 Hope Estate

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Let’s Spend The Night Together

It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll

Tumbling Dice

Dead Flowers

Rocks Off

Paint It Black

Honky Tonk Women

You Got The Silver (Keith Richards vocal)

Before They Make Me Run (Keith)

Just Can’t Be Seen (Keith)

Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)

Miss You

Gimme Shelter

Start Me Up

Sympathy For The Devil

Brown Sugar

Encore

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with Sydney Philharmonia)

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)

 

 

 

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