Steely Dan Plays It Smooth At Freedom Hill

By Gary Graff
The Oakland Press

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — For a band that defiantly didn’t tour for so many years, Steely Dan has become a pretty smooth live act.

Of course, Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and company have had some practice at this point, having resumed Steely Dan as a performing entity in 1993 and touring regularly ever since. Their first-ever show at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre on Monday night showed the virtues that experience — along with some accomplished players and a sterling repertoire of jazzy rock songs — have yielded.

Entering the stage after a brief overture by their 10-piece band, Becker and Fagen filled the nearly two-hour show with a combination of hits and album tracks — nothing particularly rare, but welcome little-heard selections such as the bluesy title track from 1974’s Pretzel Logic. Although it left its most recent album, 2003’s Everything Must Go, untouched, Steely Dan tripped through the rest of its catalog, from an emotive version of 1972’s “Dirty Work” sung by backup singers Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery and Cindy Mizelle to a pair from 2000’s Grammy Award-winning Two Against Nature.

With virtually no visual distractions, Monday’s concert was strictly about the music and the instrumental pyrotechnics provided by the musicians — particularly the alternating guitar solos by Becker and longtime band member Jon Herington. Each of the four horn section players had numerous moments in the spotlight, and drummer Keith Carlock deftly paced the ensemble through the ebb-and-flow dynamics of “Aja.” Steely Dan could make an entire other show of favorites that it didn’t play Monday, but it still delivered plenty of what the nearly 5,000 fans came to hear, including “Bad Sneakers,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Peg,” “Josie,” “FM,” “Kid Charlemagne” and “Bodhisattva.” The exuberance spread to the stage, as well, where Becker told the crowd that “we’re never going back to Knob Hill (er, Pine Knob — er, DTE Energy Music Theatre). We like it here!”

Then again, with a show this smooth and offhandedly excellent, he can be assured they’ll probably go wherever the band is playing.

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