Steely Dan Still Does It Well

By Stacey Vreeken
Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ, Cal. — Call it revenge of the nerds or the triumph of music over rock stardom, but Steely Dan at the Chronicle Pavilion proved again that good music knows no age.

The band seamlessly performed a concert heavily laden with hits from its heyday in the ’70s, salted with cuts off its most recent two CDs without much noticeable difference between the two eras. It was all smooth, slick, jazzy and studio quality.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were in great form, with Becker tossing off guitar licks with practiced insouciance and Fagen, head back, chest out in his best Joe Cocker, singing with a kind of sleazy earnestness.

The two were backed by a full band — crack horn section, accomplished backup singers, solid rhythm and bass — just like you would see in a big band. In fact, Cornelius Bumpus, a sax player from Santa Cruz, was singled out on his birthday in this last, full gig of a nationwide tour.

The sound was excellent, clear, full and balanced. While the singers were drowned out a bit near the end, overall the band delivered a studio-quality performance, a hallmark of Steely Dan that came through Saturday night.

Fagen assured the audience at the beginning of the show that it would get what it came for and launched into “Aja,” “Time Out of Mind” and “Caves of Altamira,” proving that good melody lines hold up over the years.

“Babylon Sister” and the San Francisco line from “Kid Charlemagne” pulled the audience to their feet and by “Hey Nineteen” everyone was singing along.

Songs from the new albums “Everything Must Go” and “Two Against Nature” slid down like our old friends “Peg” and “Josie,” along with Fagen and Becker’s repeated thank you’s to band members, sound people, wives, even the truck drivers for the group.

When was the last time you heard a thank you to the driver of the band?

By the time the encore of “Old School” and “FM” was played, the triumph of hot musicians and great melodies over looks and flash was assured for the next century.

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