There is no doubt in my mind that I made the exact right move last night. I knew when I’d heard about it at a poker game last Tuesday. What is “it”, you may ask? It is Nearly Dan, a Steely Dan cover band that I saw last night at the Fishtale Brewery.
I’ve been burned by sham cover bands in the past. Let me tell you about the time I took the slow drive to Tacoma to see a Billy Joel impersonator on Billy Joel’s 59th birthday. I was hoping for a dark loungy bar… the kind of bar with red velvet, booths, and candlelight… the kind of bar where I could sit in a dark corner, sip on whiskey, and listen to a fake Billy Joel sing songs about loneliness. Alas what I got was Chopstix, the dueling piano bar. Sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? I thought so too until I got there. They were charging $7 at the door and the price of drinks was outrageous. I bought a martini for my friend Ian and myself netting a loss of $30 before I had even sat down.
“Ye gods,” I thought, “it’s going to be one of those nights.” And it was. The bar was essentially a brightly lit stainless steel cube with uncomfortable metal patio furniture facing an elevated stage with two baby grand pianos on it. The waitresses were dressed like Hooters girls, the security all looked like Fred Durst, and the dudes sitting at the pianos were two coked up 55 year old scumbags whacking out bad, and when I say bad I mean really fucking god-awful, versions of classic radio hits. These were bad songs in the first place, but these guys made them worse by changing the words around to be “clever” and “funny”. For example they changed the words of “Day Tripper” to “Gay Stripper”. It was like that one guy who dresses like Uncle Sam and sings songs about the deficit and shit. You know who I’m talking about. It was that caliber of humor, and that caliber of crowd as well. The bulk of the crowd was middle-aged white folk that looked like the worst kind of weekend warriors. You could tell that there were a couple of birthdays in the room and that this was where they decided to spend it. Wow.
“Look at this place,” I said “it’s 9 pm and these people are hammered.”
Ian retorted, “That’s Tacoma for you. It’s an early city. Everyone here is in bed by 10 and up by 5. Come on, let’s go sit in the back and pretend we’re record executives.”
“Good idea. It would explain why we’re so obviously out of place here.”
We found a table tucked away in the corner and we sat there in the shadows listening to these two jackasses butcher Sweet Home Alabama wondering what the hell we were doing here. Did we come to this place for a reason? What were we doing in this ridiculous zoo? Ah yes! Billy Joel! Or at least the best phony Billy Joel that Tacoma could afford. That’s why we drove 30 miles and were blowing through a week’s pay. Where was this guy? And why were these two clowns still on stage?
All of a sudden I spotted an open table in the middle nearer the action. “There’s an open table. Quick, let’s get it before it gets swallowed up by this swine. Follow me.” I wrestled past the apes and the whores like a man on a mission. I was getting that table at all costs. I secured it and waved Ian and Lindsay over. As I scavenged for empty chairs I bumped into two people I’d met earlier in the day that also said they were going to be here. They were a young couple and they looked like they were enjoying themselves. I made an extra effort not to be too flirtatious with the girl whose name I do not remember. She was not making it easy on me. “Let me buy you a drink.” she said. “What are you having?”
“Gin Martini. Clean and dry.”
“Nonsense. The only way to drink a martini is dirty and wet.”
I profoundly disagreed with her. Olive brine is nothing that ever needs to be in one of my drinks, and I was in no mood to guzzle vermouth like Earnest Hemmingway in his days of jaundice. I was in no position to argue with her, however, as she was alredy ordering.
Lindsay and Ian had arrived by this time and awkward re-introductions were made all around. I didn’t really know these people, and they didn’t really know me, but for some reason they were treating me like an old friend that they hadn’t seen in years. I saw no reason to swim against the tide. It was time to find some common ground… something we could all relate to…
“When are these bozos going to get off the stage?” I blurted, “I came here to see a Billy Joel impersonator, not some back-alley sideshow.”
Just as I’d finished with my rant the goofballs left the stage. They were replaced by the owner of the bar, another man in his 50s that looked like he might have mob ties. He made an announcement about the bar. Apparently it was relatively new; open less than a year. He toasted Billy Joel for his bithday and proclaimed that this was the “First annual Billy Joel birthday extravaganza”. I felt lucky to be a part of history. They brought out a giant cake, cut it, and gave pieces away. I declined feigning diabetes so as to not appear rude. Then the owner introduced the star of the show: someone impersonating Billy Joel.
I have to hand it to this guy. He looked just like him, he sang just like him, and he played a mean piano. He was the real deal, as much as an imposter could ever be anyway. As soon as he started playing I felt relieved. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It was costly, yes, and I did have to sit through an arduous opening act, but now everything was starting to make sense. This guy was good.
My high was short-lived, however. Six songs and twenty minutes later he was standing up and waving good-bye.
“What the hell is this?” I shouted, “That’s it? What a scam! You people are vultures!”
Ian interrupted me. “Calm down you maniac. You’ll get us thrown out.”
“So what?” I said, “I’ve been ready to leave this place since we got here. Let’s go back to Olympia and get wasted. I’ve got a powerful urge to sing some karaoke.”
Part of me wanted to be polite to my new friends and finish the martini the girl had bought for me, but the drink was terrible and the two boobs were back. They started hammering out the worst version of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” I’d ever heard. It sounded as if they were just mashing on the keys. We didn’t need any more incentive. The show was over. We were leaving.
On the way out some staff girl handed us each a pint glass with a flier inside. “Thanks for coming to Chopstix.” she said through the teeth of a phony smile. When I got outside I smashed the glass in the street. “Eat shit Tacoma!” I yelled.
We peeled out and drove at top speed back to Olympia. Tumwater, actually. We found ourselves in a shitty bar with a tropical themed name that I cannot recall. There was nothing wrong with the building itself. The place was structurally sound. It was even well decorated. It was the crowd that made the place unsavory. The place was overrun with on-leave soldiers and their slutty and overweight wives.
I am well aware of today’s political climate. I know that it is almost taboo to bad-mouth the military right now, but I don’t care. Somebody needs to say it out loud.
I DO NOT support the troops. I hate them. Anyone that signs up for the United States Armed Forces, any branch of them, even the coastguard, is a class-A rube and likely a brainless thug. There may have been a time in American history when there was honor in being a soldier, but it is not now. The U.S. military hasn’t been involved in a conflict that wasn’t despicable since World War II and even that one is questionable. If, by now, you haven’t figured out that the military will treat you like an indentured servant for the rest of your life as soon as you sign on the dotted line then you are truly a sucker and deserve to get shot for Dick Cheney’s money. I have not met one single person in active duty that I respect in any way. They portray the ugliest face of American culture. They are ignorant, arrogant, racist, stupid bullies that have bad taste in clothes, art, music, and women. They are driven by a sociopathic desire to hurt other people because it is fun for them. They are the very essence of the America I am ashamed of and they are the reason that every other culture in the world hates us. The notion that they are “defending our freedom” is preposterous. They are nothing more than well-equipped pirates that steal from other countries so we can maintain a level of wastefulness that will soon come to bite us in the ass if it isn’t happening already.
Waa-hoo what a tangent! That last bit is surely going to get me beaten up someday. Oh well, where was I? Oh yeah, that shitty bar in Tumwater!
We were there for one reason only, and that was karaoke. However it was apparent after one song that we did not belong there and that we could save a lot of time, money, and discomfort if we just stocked up on beer and got drunk at my house.
And that was my night. Next year on Billy Joel’s birthday I have resolved to save myself a lot of time and trouble and just light eighty dollars on fire while whistling “Piano Man.”
What is the moral of this story, and what does it have to do with Nearly Dan, the Steely Dan cover band I saw at the Fishtale last night? The answer is there is no moral and it has absolutely nothing to do with last night’s debauchery, of which there was a lot.
The point was that I have been burned by cover bands before and the Billy Joel impersonator was the best example I could think of. Still, even with that memory burned in my brain I wasn’t even wary when I was first told about Nearly Dan. I knew right away that any band that would even attempt to pull off Steely Dan would be consummate professionals and immaculate musicians. There isn’t a musician alive on this earth that isn’t at least aware of Steely Dan’s technical prowess. And while there may be plenty of them that don’t like Steely Dan, it is a moot point. Steely Dan knew exactly what they were doing. If you’re not paying attention Steely Dan can come across as “dad rock” or “crappy light jazz”. It is this very ruse that puts them a cut above their contemporaries and thrusts them beyond their classic rock counterparts and into a league of their own. Steely Dan’s smooth clean sound is a brilliant candy-coating that glosses over some of the roughest and dirtiest shit I’ve ever heard. Even the name itself is a brand of vibrator. There is no doubt in my mind that Donald Fagan and Walter Becker have slung dope, kept book, and broken kneecaps to make an example of someone. Those two would cut up a hooker as easily and pitilessly as you or I would steal towels from a hotel suite that someone else paid for. The Dan is not to be trifled with. They will kill you.
Steely Dan recorded all of their albums in the 1970s (I’m not including their recent efforts) and they set a standard in fidelity that was matched only by Pink Floyd and possibly Fleetwood Mac. Every instrument is pristinely clear. Nothing is out of place. There is not a stray note anywhere. Steely Dan is musical perfection.
That is why I knew right away that Nearly Dan would be great. No one would even attempt Steely Dan if they weren’t 100% capable of pulling it off. No one wants to embarrass themselves in public, and that is what a sloppy and incompetent Steely Dan cover band would be doing. They would never get hired for more than one gig, and they probably wouldn’t get paid for that one. Steely Dan is a lot to live up to. Their name carries weight.
Fishtale knows how to throw a party. $25 dollars got you in the door and 10 tickets. Each ticket was worth one “taste” of beer. A taste meant a pint. 3 tickets got you some gourmet food. They had smoked salmon, roasted pig, and bratwurst they made from scratch right at the pub. That’s dinner, an awesome band, and almost a gallon of freshly brewed beer for $25. It was the best deal I’ve ever even heard of. Everyone that was there knew it too. There was a sense of entitlement floating in the air. Everyone that was on the right side of the fence knew that they were on the inside track and that they had a little bit of an edge over everyone that wasn’t.
I drink, but I rarely drink during the day. Yesterday I started drinking beer before 5 pm. That is outrageous for me and five to six hours before I would usually start my night. But there was no looking back. We had heard the band soundcheck. It was going to be good.
The night got off to a slow start. The crowd was mostly middle aged business owners and politicians; not exactly party animals. Nearly Dan came on at 6pm and even though they were spectacular and spot-on the crowd was luke-warm. They played immaculately for about an hour while the crowd sort of stood there and gazed. You could tell that the band was a little disappointed in the audience, but they were professional and they didn’t let it get to them. They took an hour break at which time there was a live auction where the Olympia money people bid hundreds of dollars on silly things. Hearing the auctioneer say things like “five hundred, do I hear five fifty? Six? Going once, going twice, sold to the lady in the purple hat for six hundred dollars!” for every item was something I don’t usually get to hear. It was exciting to watch.
When Nearly Dan came back for their second set the sun had gone down and the crowd was thoroughly drunk and ready to rock. I can’t remember which song they opened the second set with, but I remember a raucous crowd screaming and dancing. One girl in particular, a boozed up floozy in her 30s named Rachel was hell bent on dry humping every man in the crowd. I danced with her for Kid Charlemagne. It was great.
By the end of the night the whole crowd was singing along. They played My Old School and I myself was singing at the top of my lungs. I was not alone. Everyone around was singing, dancing, and spilling endless beer all over the place. There was not an uptight ass in the whole neighborhood at this point in the night. Even the old ladies and the stiffs let their hair down.
When the band finished playing the party was over and I was thoroughly tanked. It was 10pm and I drove home drunk enough to be imprisoned for a month. I stumbled to my bed and abruptly passed out for 11 hours. It was the earliest I’ve been to sleep for as long as I can remember.
I feel bad for everyone that missed this one. It was a night in Olympia that doesn’t come around very often. Usually people in this city drag themselves out to suffer through lackluster live performances all the while drinking PBR and generally being lame. It took a Steely Dan cover band to bring out the best in people. That sentiment does not bode well for our times, but I don’t care. I had fun last night and I’ll do it again. In the immortal words of Jim Morrison, “I’m just trying to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.” Semper Fi.