Steely Dan tribute band performs at Englert

BY JULIA JESSEN | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Four horn players, three backup singers, two keyboardists, two guitarists, three musicians in the rhythm section, and one lead singer — 15 Iowa City musicians make up the Steely Dan tribute band the Fez.

The group will perform at 8 p.m. Friday in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

"People come out to hear us recreate [the music of Steely Dan] exactly, and when we do, it makes everyone happy to hear that we play the songs true to form," said Ben Franklin, the band's drummer and one of the founders of the group.

Franklin and Loren Lang, the band's lead singer, started the group when messing around during a rehearsal of a previous band. Franklin was trying out different sounds on the drums and realized that they sounded a lot like a Steely Dan recording. Lang started to sing along, and he sounded a lot like the lead singer in Steely Dan, whose name is taken from that of a dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

"I just made a joke that we should start a Steely Dan tribute band, but then we actually did it," Franklin said.

They intended the first show to be a one-time-only affair, but it was so well-received that they decided to keep playing.

"All of the feedback that we've gotten has been phenomenal," Lang said. "The music is so hard that it really requires 15 people to perform it, so the fact that anybody is actually doing it and people can go out to a local club and see a 15-piece band play nothing but Steely Dan all night is kind of a rare thing."

Steely Dan comprised two core members and a rotating queue of guest musicians — up to 30 or 40 on one album. The Fez strives to perform the group's music exactly, listening to studio and live versions to make sure each part is perfect.

"If there's ever any discrepancy for what part somebody is playing, we just hit play on the album and say, 'Play it like that,' " Franklin said.

Members of the Fez described the music of Steely Dan as being intricate and layered.

"The stuff is notably sophisticated and has a bit of a darker edge to it," Lang said. "All of the arrangements are complex and lush."

Most of the members of the group were big Steely Dan fans before joining the band, but guitarist Seth May didn't realize how familiar he was with the music until he heard the songs the group was planning to play.

"I was like, 'I didn't know this was Steely Dan; I like these tunes,' " he said. "I just never knew who it was."

People should come to the concert because even if they believe they aren't familiar with Steely Dan, they have probably heard the music, he said.

The Fez will perform the albums Aja and Gaucho in their entirety at the Englert this weekend. Members of the group said they hope the audience feels as if they are hearing an authentic presentation of the Steely Dan aesthetic — the next-best thing to the real band.

"I want them to feel like they are at a raging party listening to Steely Dan records," Franklin said.

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