By Ricardo Baca
DENVER — Steely Dan co-frontman Donald Fagen was supposed to play the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night, but his trucks got stuck on snowy Nebraska highways. Fagen was forced to postpone until Wednesday, when the sold-out crowd warmed him and his band from the cold outside with a display of vocal adoration that is rare in the fickle world of rock.
Most of the audience (median age: 45-ish) was reverent during Fagen’s songs, both new and old, both solo and cherry-picked from what he kept referring to as “the Steely Dan files.” And he paid them back with a 10-piece band that never stopped, and a little timely humor.
“Since we’re here in Colorado, I think it’s only proper we do a track from the Kamakiriad album called ‘Snowbound,’ ” he said, 30 minutes into the show and before launching into the crowd favorite that described, in a way, his band’s difficulties in the previous 48 hours.
Fagen, whose pop-jazz concept album Morph the Cat hit stores two weeks ago, has mastered the art of keeping the crowd happy and interweaving the new with the old. Curiously, the two don’t sound all that dissimilar.
Much of Morph the Cat, especially songs such as “H Gang” and “Brite Nitegown,” could have easily been written for Fagen’s first solo record, 1981’s The Nightfly.
All of it worked for the crowd on Wednesday night at the Paramount, which lapped up the show-opening Steely Dan track “Here at the Western World” with the same enthusiasm as they did the new “Mary Shut the Garden Door.” “New Frontier” and “The Goodbye Look” were particularly on, as was a cover of “Misery and the Blues,” an oldie popularized by jazzman Jack Teagarden.
But regardless of the band’s intense and studied musicianship, a given with anything he’s involved in, a Fagen show can get a little old — even considering the breadth of material covered.
Though Fagen’s jazz-rooted proto-jam rock was once innovative, others have picked up his lead and run with the creative ferocity he once displayed but no longer maintains.
Steely Dan, which he runs with Walter Becker, ruled the ’70s in their own trailblazing fashion. And Fagen’s solo debut, too, was an entertaining artistic statement.
But his much-documented decade-long bout with writer’s block, which lasted throughout the ’80s, was something he never quite recovered from. And because of that, Morph the Cat is what it is — a fine record had it been released two decades ago, but little more than a piece of nostalgia in today’s popscape.