Steely Dan Delivers Pristine Pop

By Michael Senft
The Arizona Republic

Before we proceed with the review of Steely Dan’s concert, here are a few words of advice for Valley concertgoers.

1) When a concert is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. without an opening act, don’t wait until 8 p.m. to find your seats. Dozens of fans were still milling around the aisles halfway through the first set, distracting the attendees who had the foresight to arrive on time.

2) At a reserved seats show, if you can’t find your seats, ask an usher rather than just taking the first seat you can find. Again, it detracts from the concert experience having to shuffle around while people who are in the wrong seats move to the correct ones.

Now, on with the concert review.

While the exodus of latecomers trying to find their seats was distracting to some fans, it didn’t detract from Steely Dan’s performance at the Dodge Theatre Wednesday night. For its first Valley concert in nine years, the Dan delivered two hours of pristine-sounding pop to a packed house of adoring fans.

The 11-piece backup band took the stage first, trading solos on a Latin-tinged jazz instrumental. As the piece wound down, Steely Dan’s main men, guitarist Walter Becker and keyboardist/singer Donald Fagen sauntered onstage from either side.

Becker looked cool and relaxed, grinning while playing, occasionally glancing down at a music stand to the side. The sunglasses-wearing Fagen looked like Ray Charles perched behind his Fender Rhodes electric piano.

After settling themselves, the band launched into the jazzy title track from the Dan’s 1977 masterpiece, “Aja.” Saxophonist Walt Weiskopf ably handled the mammoth solo, originally recorded by jazz giant Wayne Shorter. Next the Dan launched into its funky ode to heroin, “Time Out of Mind,” from 1980’s “Gaucho.”

“Aja” and “Gaucho” material dominated both sets, as the Dan impeccably played eight songs from the pair of albums, including the barely-legal love song “Hey Nineteen” as well as the hits “Peg” and “Josie,” which included a solo from drummer Keith Carlock. The 1976 album “Royal Scam” was also well represented, with hits including the drug dealer anthem “Kid Charlemagne” as well as rarer album tracks like “Caves of Altamira.”

Although Steely Dan is touring in support of its fine new album, “Everything Must Go,” the album was not spotlighted. Only two songs were included the set –- the funky, snide “Godwhacker” and the sly “Lunch with Gina.”

Becker also stepped to the mike a couple times during the evening, singing the classic Dan tracks, “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More” and “Haitian Divorce.” The trio of back-up singers handled the Charlie Parker tribute “Parker’s Band” from “Pretzel Logic” as well as the second-set opener, “The Steely Dan Show,” a humorous “tribute to us, by us” as Fagen described it.

Many of Steely Dan’s hits were conspicuously absent –- no “Reelin’ in the Years,” no “Deacon Blues,” no “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” But Becker and Fagen made up for those absences with several deep album cuts including “Home at Last” and “Don’t Take Me Alive,” which closed the first and second sets respectively.

The Dan did play two of its biggest hits, however. With the crowd on its feet demanding an encore, the band obliged with two more tunes. The crowd sang every word to “My Old School” and danced to “FM” before dispersing into the damp night.

Steely Dan spent the ’70s making impeccable albums while not touring and the ’90s playing impeccable shows while not recording. With an excellent new album and tour, Becker and Fagen has proved they can do both at the same time. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait nine years for a return visit.

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