By Curtis Schieber
The Columbus Dispatch
Steely Dan songs are the perfect live pop music vehicle. On record, they are intricately structured on tight, varied rhythms and precise horn arrangements but punctuated by marvelous solo opportunities. Singer Donald Fagen’s melodies are appealing as candy, while his lyrics mock the world.
As presented in the Palace Theatre last night, they ran from near-faithful readings to liberal re-invention. Nearly all of it worked brilliantly.
Those closest to the recordings formed musical bookends. After the band’s opening overture, “Black Cow” didn’t ruffle any feathers, the horns, keyboards and groove sticking close. If Fagen struggled a bit for a couple of the vocals, he turned up the ends of the phrases to compensate. Coming to the end of the two-hour set, “Josie” and “Peg” similarly inspired ecstasy with familiarity.
Between, the group ransacked the breadth of its catalog with both crowd-pleasers and surprises, radical remakes and terrific tweaks.
“Hey Nineteen” was ill-advised, an interesting little twist brought down by a rambling, unnecessary monologue from Dan co-founder Walter Becker that was nearly saved by a fine tenor sax solo from Walt Weiskopf. (Becker redeemed himself later with sweet guitar solos.)
“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” one of the band’s biggest hits, was refreshed by a new, freer take that relegated the signature piano intro, lifted from Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” to the end.
“Bodhisattva,” performed at a perilous pace, was delivered with uncommonly punchy phrasing, reinforcing its sarcastic view of flash religious conversion. “Dirty Work,” a tune from the group’s first album, fit comfortably with later, fully-realized Dan material, as delivered passionately by singers La Tanya Hall, Carolyn Leonhart and the incomparable Cindy Mizelle.
Guitarist Bobby Broom’s trio opened with a classic organ combo that performed jazz evergreens.