I think that anyone who actually grew up with vinyl probably misses it. You have heard me go on and on about the poetry of sliding a record out of its dust jacket, gently blowing off any residue dirt and easing it on to the turntable… then grabbing the needle with one finger… for me it was right index… and slowly, carefully carrying the needle over to the edge of the album, and dropping it… well… lowering it onto the black “disc” that will then, suddenly crackle to life.
I could stare at the album cover for hours, turning it over and over in my hands; or if I was lucky, it might be one that opened up and had liner notes. Oh man! It was a process, a ritual. Kind of like opening a fine, old bottle of wine with a fancy corkscrew. Yes, we all know that screw caps preserve the wine better, but there is not as much romance behind that as there is in cutting the foil, sinking the tip of the opener into the cork and then twisting and pulling until we get that delightful, senses opening pop! Hmmm… that sounds like something else entirely!
That feeling of joy and wonder and ecstasy washed over me and the whole audience last night at the Gibson amphitheatre for Steely Dan’s Aja show.
At first I was confused as to why they draped off both sides of the venue with black curtains that ran from the stage all the way to the back of the already small arena. Surely this event would have sold out completely… but it created a sense of intimacy, as if we were all in someones living room, lying or sitting on a deep shag rug for an album listening party.
The band walked on stage and opened with a little jazz number, each taking a nice but short solo. Then out walked Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The crowd went crazy. As the back up singers took the stage, one of them walked to a lit turntable and placed the needle onto an actual album… Aja… The act was a bit too subtle and I only noticed it because I was told about it and was expecting it. The moment went way too fast. If I was staging it, I would have played it out a bit longer. I would have had her walk out with the Aja album overhead, like a fight card girl. And I truly do not mean that in a sexist way, but simply to be more dramatic and call attention to it. I guarantee you the audience would have went even wilder. I would have had her slide the album out, place it on the turntable, and do all the rest… That would be my only gripe of the night!
Once the needle went down, the band launched into the opening notes of “Black Cow.” It was beyond magical… and suddenly those big black curtains wrapped you up like a blanket. People were smiling, dancing, giving standing ovations after every song… and when the singer came back to “flip” the album over for side two, the crowd joyously celebrated… especially after the “album” portion concluded.
I have never seen a band play an album live from start to finish, and while I know it is a concept a lot of bands and artists are employing these days, it is fantastic, nostalgic and just plain wonderful. Or perhaps I was just delighted by the fact that I was amongst the youngest of the audience. No… the night was utterly joyous. So if anyone can get me to Chicago for Springsteen’s Born to Run night, I would be eternally grateful.
Peace, love and music!