By Jane Stevenson
TORONTO — There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues maybe but Steely Dan’s concert at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on Friday night (July 22, 2011) went a long way in easing the pain of yet another excruciatingly hot and humid evening in Toronto as the city’s heat wave continued.
The ‘70s jazz-rock duo of singer-keyboardist Donald Fagen, 63, and guitarist Walter Becker, 61, were joined by an incredibly tight 11-piece band on their so-called Shuffle Diplomacy Twenty Eleven Tour which saw them play both greatest hits and deep cuts for just over two hours in front of a crowd of 6,500.
And even if the show didn’t quite reach the same feverish heights of their last stop in our town at Massey Hall in 2009 when they did two back-to-back nights playing 1977’s Aja the first night and 1976’s The Royal Scam the second night — the first evening becoming one of my Top Ten shows of that particular year — it came often close during various sweaty, memorable moments.
Becker, who recalled Santa Claus with his beard, glasses and tummy and stationary stance, as he played guitar to the side of Fagen’s keyboards was also in unusually chatty form, rambling on and on a couple of times during the show and even took over on lead vocals at one point.
Fagnen, meanwhile, was in his typical Ray Charles mode, in sunglasses and with his head tilted to the side, as he sang song after song in his delightfully raspy but still strong voice while occasionally jumping to his feet with one or both arms in the air.
But the night began with a long jazz workout as the Miles High Big Band — Keith Carlock (drums); Jon Herington (guitar); Freddie Washington (bass); Jim Beard (keys); Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf, Roger Rosenberg and Jim Pugh (horns) — performed Dizzy’s “Bidness” before Fagen and Becker casually wandered out onto the stage with the Embassy Brats a.k.a. background singers Carolyn Leonhart, Cindy Mizelle, and Catherine Russell.
The first song by the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame duo was the title track from Aja followed by both more obscure songs – “Black Friday,” “Your Gold Teeth,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Showbiz Kids” – and recognizable hits “Hey Nineteen,” “Bodhisattva,” “Dirty Work” (actually sung by the Brats), “Josie,” “Peg,” “My Old School,” “Reelin’ In The Years,” and “Kid Charlemagne.”
As they often do in a live setting, Fagen and Becker gave the songs plenty of breathing space as they delivered longer versions than their studio counterparts and the infusion of younger players like Carlock and Herington kept them on their toes and it suits them.
And if anyone can tell me the significance of the life-size blow up Betty Boop doll which was trotted out alongside the backup singers right before the encore, please tell me.