Still Reelin' In the Years: Steely Dan Kick Coachella's Ass

“Uncle Wally and Uncle Don”—as they insist we call them—truly do not give a fuck, which is a pleasure to see in a field where so many people give far too many.

by Leonie Cooper
Apr 11 2015, 5:56pm

Photos by Frank Thomas.

Steely Dan aren’t the only old buggers on this year’s Coachella bill—we direct your attention to Friday night headliners AC/DC, brutal noise bastards Swans, and soul shaker Charles Bradley—but they are something of a surprise on a bill brimming with hype-hop, fashion-pop and twenty-something longhaired dudes from the interchangeable neighborhoods of Bushwick/Echo Park/Dalston.

Much like when The Replacements played at last year’s festival, for most of Steely’s set the first 50 feet in front of the stage is the place to find everyone over the age of 35, as well as a handful of grumpy preteens ordered by their parents to stay close, plus a few solo bros who've crept away from their Tecate-slamming pack of pricks to hear songs that remind them of that golden era when their parents still loved each other. A Coachella anomaly, this is also where you'll find the light up glitter bowler hats, tubby retirement age dudes in sun visors, and un-ironic Hooters t-shirts.

As Walter Becker and Donald Fagen start up their smooth cruise ship grooves, soccer moms actually lose their shit. Men who stopped buying razors in 1974 play air bass with abandon. Even toddlers run about with a look of madness in their eyes. Your weird ex-boyfriend sends you a creepy WhatsApp. Here is where you find real America: This is where the real party is. Steely Dan's presence on the Coachella bill isn't such a WTF IDK booking as it first seems. They're having a moment, and this Coachella set kickstarts a 20-plus date tour round the country. As pointed out in The Noisey Guide to Steely Dan, they've been sampled by a host of iconic artists (Ice Cube, De La Soul, Kanye West, DJ Rashad, and Super Furry Animals included), and your godmother in Palm Springs that you’ve only met twice almost definitely did blow with them in a hotel bar in the Bahamas in 1981.

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A proper old school show, opener “Bodhisattva” is heralded by a weed smell that manages to out-dank the day’s crowds at Flying Lotus and Action Bronson. Steely Dan’s onstage presence is bigger than the A$AP Mob and includes a bevvy of backing babes brandishing tambourines and sporting skintight black Lycra—grown women who are referred to as “girls.” Oh, the past, you quirky thing.

“You're gonna know that your little world has been rocked,” Becker announces near the top of their set as after the horns of the impressively sleazy “Hey Nineteen” trickle off the stage. Without a whisper of emotion on his face, this is a man manages to make playing the most talked about festival in the world seem akin to taking the trash out. Balancing a succession of baller axes on his paunch—a Flying V comes out for “Josie”—he admits there were certain “financial considerations” which came into play when agreeing to this two weekend blowout. Yeah, y'think? Throwing in a couple of songs which seem to last at least 20 minutes, as well as some audacious drum and sax solos, “Uncle Wally and Uncle Don”—as they insist we call them—truly do not give a fuck, which is a pleasure to see in a field where so many people give far too many. Bemoaning the curfew, they tie up their set with “My Old School,” “Reelin’ In the Years,” and “Kid Charlemagne,” proving with each lithe lilt and funked up lick, they don’t just deserve to be on this year’s Coachella lineup, but at festivals around the world. Glastonbury, are you reading this?

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Leonie Cooper has yet to tell us what the weird WhatsApp said, but you can ask her on Twitter.