By Mike Boehm
Los Angeles Times
IRVINE, Cal. — Steely Dan has distinct advantages over other ’70s pop warhorses trying to justify their existence a generation beyond their hit-making prime.
When mainstays Walter Becker and Donald Fagen go on stage with whatever assortment of ace players and singers they’ve assembled to flesh out their band-in-concept, they aren’t competing with fans’ fond memories of any concert exploits from their youth. The band was famous for not touring.
Steely Dan, which played to a nearly filled house Friday night at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, has an artistic advantage as well. Becker and Fagen’s music doesn’t geyser forth from the passionate turbulence of youth. Most Steely Dan songs are the observations of a coolly ironic intellect surveying a strange, corrupt world of seedy deals, sexual betrayals, egotistical pretensions and warping obsessions.
On their third tour since their 1993 comeback, the duo arrived with an accomplished nine-member backing ensemble and some fresh ambitions: They’re at work on the first new Steely Dan material since their initial run. The two new songs they played, “Jack of Speed” and “Cash Only Island,” signaled no new departures and, on first listening, no recapturing of their genius for indelible pop.
Mainly, the two-hour show kept the nuggets coming. This wasn’t an ideal night to hear most of those nuggets, as an under-the-weather Fagen came up sounding chesty and burry. Still, he had a fine moment with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” It’s one of the few songs in the Steely Dan repertoire that allows for much warmth, and he extracted the most from it by improvising bluesy, forlorn phrasings.