By Jane Stevenson
TORONTO — “How ya feelin’ Donald?” a male fan shouted out to Steely Dan singer-keyboardist Donald Fagen on Monday night at Massey Hall.
“I’m feeling groovy, baby,” smiled the 58-year-old, who’s taking part in the first solo tour of his three-decade-plus career.
And groovy Fagen, who postponed his Boston show and cancelled his Ottawa concert due to illness, proved to be over the course of an hour-and-50 minutes worth of polished, sophisticated jazz-pop.
His set list equally favoured his three solo albums — including “Morph The Cat” which is in record stores today — and his Steely Dan catalogue, much to the delight of the crowd.
Honestly, it’s hard to tell the difference between his Steely Dan/solo songs in terms of sound.
But judging from the funky, warm — and yes even groovy — energy on stage on Monday night at Massey, with Fagen backed by an impressive nine-person band including two soulful female backup singers, he should do the solo thing more often.
Not that he’s Jerry Lee Lewis or anything.
However, as impressive as both Fagen and his Steely Dan partner/guitarist Walter Becker — who’s currently working on his own solo album — are as musicians, their concerts at the Molson Amphitheatre in 2000 and 2003 have been pretty mellow affairs.
On Monday night in front of an audience that was far from a sell-out, judging from the number of empty seats on the floor and at the back of both balconies, Fagen oozed quirky charm and a genuine playfulness.
Hunched over his keyboards like a cross between Richard III and Quasimodo, Fagen would raise either one or two fingers or a clenched fist dramatically to signal the end of each song.
Naturally, extended jams and solos worked their way into almost every number.
Standouts included both old and new solo songs like “New Frontier,” “The Goodbye Look,” “I.G.Y.,” “Brite Nitegown” and “Mary, Shut The Garden Door,” and Steely Dan chestnuts “Home At Last,” “Black Cow,” “FM,” and “Pretzel Logic.”
Still, there is also a workmanlike quality to Fagen’s performance.
When he first strode on to his stripped-down stage, save for a red backdrop, my pal next to me said he looked like he was coming to fix the washing machine. (He did bend down an awful lot to wipe the sweat from his face but thankfully we were spared any plumber’s butt).
Okay, so maybe he’s no Liberace in terms of showmanship, but you’ve got to give Fagen major credit for trying and succeeding on his own.
He’s planning to do more solo touring before regrouping with Becker for some Steely Dan shows later this summer.