By Nancy J. Parisi
Niagara Falls, NY — Jazz-rock ensemble Steely Dan, fronted by co-founders/co-creators Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and with a sterling touring band, played Seneca Events Center on Friday night. The show, a stop on a three-month theater tour (as it’s called in the industry), fell midway between a large club gig and stadium spectacle, and was ultra-produced show business with tinges of improv.
The show was also ultra-sold-out. There were dozens standing at the back of the room near the soundboard, some swaying and dancing throughout the set and encore.
Spotted there, too, was Tony Astran, publicity manager for Seneca Gaming Corp.
“This is the most crowded, the highest head count ever in this room, since I’ve been here in 2010,” he said of attendance.
Fagen and Becker have dubbed this their “Jamalot Ever After Tour,” and the band, therefore, is the Jamalot Band. Eight players took the stage (Becker among them) under rich blue lighting. They opened with “Cubano Chant,” a ’50s Latin jazz piece penned by pianist Ray Bryant and known as an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers tune. It was a perfect warm-up and intro for Fagen, who elegantly sauntered onto the stage with three backup singers in tow.
It was on to “Black Cow,” Fagen lit gorgeously under a dark orange spotlight. The song is one of the rock world’s jazziest break-up songs, and it brought into its own spotlight the beverage of the same name (either a root beer float or a coffee liqueur/cream/cola cocktail, depending on whom you ask). Fagen sipped on a cola throughout the set.
His voice was in fine form, a rich instrument. Fagen’s usual post-phrase head lift was exaggerated and a little alarming, especially when enlarged on close-up shots of him on the two screens flanking the stage.
“Aja,” Steely Dan’s ’70s hit, featured Fagen on melodica and a pretty guitar solo by Jon Herington, who shone throughout the concert. Drummer Keith Carlock transformed the song’s usually tranquil closing bars into explosive and frenetic ones. After this, the third song, the room boomed with applause and cheers.
Herington again took a lush solo on “Hey Nineteen,” another beloved, oft-played radio hit. It was after this tune that Becker addressed the audience. He spoke a bit before saying suddenly, “I’m gonna cut the BS here. We’re here to celebrate this glorious night.”
He then went on a narrative tear with a story about a man, a woman and a bottle of tequila.
Fagen continued inter-song banter.
“It is the Steely Dan Organization. This is my partner in crime (Becker, of course). … Thanks for coming, everyone,” he said.
It was after this point that the band kicked up the sexy soulfulness.
Back-to-back “Time Out of Mind,” with Fagen again on melodica and taking center stage, and “Razor Boy” were two bouncing standouts. On these the talents of the backup singers and horn section shone most brightly. Absolutely blazing was singer Cindy Mizelle, a vision with great, gleaming Afro.
Becker took the mic for jaunty-dark “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More,” a song about a man, his vices and his absence. Fagen had introduced the band but Becker praised the band further, a classy move. These were not names being tossed out at the audience but heartfelt intros.
“This is the finest Steely Dan band that ever toured – bar none, period, end of sentence. They look good, they smell good. They love animals –- we’ve got so many animals on the bus now.”
Even chinchillas, he said.
They saved “Reelin’ in the Years” for last. The audience –- now standing and screaming for “one more!” –- got the band back for its solid encore, “Kid Charlemagne,” one of Fagen and Becker’s best story songs.