Steely Dan At Beacon Theatre, Tuesday, October 7th, 2015, Reviewed
Steely Dan has had a unique career arc. I remember getting their first album as a gift when I was in college and thinking it was OK but not unique in any way. At that point they were a fairly straightforward rock band with some pretty good songs. As the years went on, they grew musically as the band shrunk. Original members were replaced by session men and guest artists, and the music grew more complex; jazzier, funkier. The lyrics grew more interesting and opaque. This trend reached a peak with 1977’s icily brilliant Aja. One more album and the band split up, making a comeback with on occasional tour and 2000’s Grammy winning Two Against Nature. Since then the two original members, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, have been touring regularly with an extremely talented touring band.
They took the stage last Wednesday night after that band played a hot instrumental number, Fagen looking like an aging hipster, Becker like your slightly kooky uncle who happens to play a hot guitar.They started off with “Black Cow’ and “Aja”. The evening was billed as a greatest hits show, and it lived up to the title. Almost everything I would want to hear was played, except “Dr. Wu” .The players, particularly lead guitarist John Herington and the excellent horn section, were brilliant. Sadly, from my seat on the far left of the orchestra they were only a rumor, as I could only see the top of Herington’s head. The horn men were invisible except when they came downstage for solos. They sounded good, though.
Fagen’s voice was never great, and the years haven’t been kind to it. Fortunately it is augmented by three slinkily clad background singers including Cindy Mizelle who is also an E Street Choir member. With their great voices Fagen didn’t really have to sing much. Becker contributed some fine lead guitar and some amusing stage patter.
Things really cooked toward the end of the set with Becker and Herington trading guitar licks on “Bodhisatva” and “My Old School”, bringing the audience to its feet. The evening conclude with an encore of “Kid Charlemagne”.
The opening act was the trad jazz trio, which despite being technically proficient put me to sleep. Literally – I was fading out until I got a phone call. Hope I didn’t snore.