Reelinâ in the years

When the local Steely Dan tribute band Black Cows debuted at 19 East last Dec. 3, the band members were pleasantly shocked by the turnout  —Photo courtesy of A.L. Henson             

Reelin’ in the years
Tinnie P. Esguerra (The Philippine Star) - December 24, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — When rumors of a local Steely Dan tribute band first started brewing mid-year, music insiders and Dan fans were abuzz with excitement.

After all, very few Pinoy groups have paid serious homage to the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the American songwriting geniuses who once shook the establishment with their irreverence, as well as their unique blend of jazz, rock and everything in between.

A few have come close, but none have quite been blessed with the chops, dedication and exacting precision to confidently nail the Dan’s expansive sound and challenging arrangements — until now.

When the Black Cows (aptly named after one of Steely Dan’s more popular hits) made their much-anticipated debut at 19 East last Dec. 3, they were pleasantly shocked by the turnout.

“I was surprised!” admits Black Cows founder, keyboardist and singer Wowee Posadas. “The first few gigs of an unknown band are usually not well-attended. I didn’t know there were that many Dan fans in Manila.”

Admittedly, not much has been heard of the Dan since Walter Becker’s untimely death last Sept. 3. In retrospect, perhaps news of the tribute band gave devout Dan fans enough reason to converge and pay homage once more.

Despite the first-night jitters and a few shaky starts, the Black Cows charged the herd straight up to analog heaven. Amid a steady funk shuffle, a wall of horn lines intertwined as sparse guitar and piano fills played out a contrapuntal dance for the vocals to weave through on such classics as Josie, Peg, Babylon Sisters, Black Friday, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Deacon Blues, Kid Charlemagne and Aja, for starters.

A true-blue Steely Dan fan since his pre-band days, Black Cows lead guitarist/frontman Pido Lalimarmo actually cut his teeth on the Dan’s eclectic guitar-driven catalog. And all throughout his tenure with FM, Side A, Artstart and his subsequent solo outings, he remains a staunch advocate of the less-is-more approach, as exemplified by perennial Steely Dan sideman Larry Carlton.

For his part, Posadas’ deft flourishes on electric piano nailed the elusive “mu chord,” a chordal voicing that pretty much defined the bluesy dissonances that have become part of the Dan’s harmonic trademark.

An in-demand session player himself, Posadas confessed about his long-time dream to jumpstart the tribute band, and Steely Dan’s impact on his playing.

He says, “I’ve always dreamt of being able to play my favorite Steely Dan songs with a band, live on stage. Life is short. Why wait, right? I love the quirkily beautiful arrangements, the ‘mu chords’ and that jazz-rock vibe that is uniquely Steely Dan’s. And I admire how they made complicated arrangements sound simple.”

Admittedly, the harder part of starting the group was getting the right musicians to fill really “big” shoes.

He adds, “Like me, Bolichie Suzara (bass) and Gibson Viduya (drums) are session musicians who play for Pido. It was during one show where the four of us played, and where I realized that the guys were perfect for the tribute band. Luckily, they all agreed to the project. Once the core rhythm section was intact, I needed to add a horn section and female back-up singers. Fortunately, we were able to recruit sax players we’ve worked with before: Rancis de Leon (alto sax), Ronald Tomas (tenor sax), Oyyo Danal (trumpet). Gail Blanco-Viduya and Suy Galvez-Descalsota (vocals) also joined.”

Surprisingly, both girls proved their worth as equally competent solo artists as well, indulging the crowd with their vocal acrobatics during their solo spots.

Since the debut gig, the band’s following has grown incrementally, thanks in large part to its solid social media fan base.

Inspired by the rekindled interest in the music, Posadas and his cohorts have no lofty dreams other than playing the music that helped define their musical identities, and serve Steely Dan fans the best cuts of the Black Cows’ prime musical beef. And that’s no bull.

Catch the Black Cows’ final performance for the year tomorrow, Dec. 26, at 19 East, 9 p.m.

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