By Lynn Saxberg
Riding the crest of a renewed interest in their music, jazz-rock pioneers Steely Dan cruised into the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall on Tuesday (8/26/2014) and delivered a wealth of musical riches to a packed house.
The band’s core creative duo, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, renowned for their perfectionism in the studio, have evidently resolved their reluctance to tour by assembling “the greatest Steely Dan band ever,” according to Becker.
He had a lot more to say, too, meandering through a monologue that eventually carried the message to “listen to music and live for love.”
No argument here. As for the band, with Jon Herington on guitar, Jim Beard on keyboards, Freddie Washington on bass and Keith Carlock on drums — plus a horn section and a trio of backing singers — the musicianship was stellar, the perfect vehicle for Fagen and Becker’s complex arrangements, which left plenty of room for soloing.
The band’s playing was technically proficient, but they never lost sight of the groove, especially in songs like “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Dirty Work” and “My Old School.”
After demonstrating their prowess with the opening instrumental, “Cubano Chant,” Fagen and Becker made their appearance, earning a standing ovation just for strolling on stage.
Well into their Jamalot Ever After tour, both men were in top form. Seated at the piano, his head cocked, Fagen sang in a voice as smooth as butter, made even more luscious by the voices of the Danettes backing him. Becker was off to the side, doling out his brilliant guitar licks from the shadows.
Highlights of a fantastic-sounding show included an imaginatively extended “Aja,” the lilting “Hey Nineteen,” a brassy “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More,” and the crowd favourite “Reelin’ in the Years,” to name a few.
As you might expect, the boomer generation was well represented in the crowd, grooving along to the soft-rock oldies from the 1970s. But there were a surprising number of younger folks in the audience, too, keen to see the godfathers of the retro musical style they call yacht rock. No matter what the age, everyone leaped to their feet at the end for a rousing standing ovation.
Earlier in the evening, the concert opened with a tasteful set by the Bobby Broom Organi-Sation. The jazz guitarist and his mates kicked off the proceedings with a terrific instrumental interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”