June 10, 2008

Kick Off Your High Heel Sneakers, It's Party Time: Steely Dan Comes To Town

“This is a special night,” Walter Becker announced after introducing the 10-piece band. “It’s Donald Fagen’s birthday.” As cheers and well wishes abounded, Fagen hunched over his keyboard in embarrassment, reticently raising his arm in gratitude. Moments later, Becker recanted, saying that, actually, his partner’s birthday is “sometime in January. Who knew?”

Shaking his head in mock-astonishment, Fagen retorted dryly, “He sure knows how to work a crowd.”

Truth be told, the sold-out audience inside Clearwater, Florida’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 9 didn’t mind being duped into unwarranted applause given that Steely Dan ultimately earned genuine approbation by playing a vibrant two-hour set.

Incidentally, the album most represented on the setlist was The Royal Scam, yielding four songs including the title track, which began the show.

On this, the second stop on their “Think Fast, Steely Dan” summer tour, Becker and Fagen drew on a diverse range of material, forgoing a number of their more familiar works – including “Deacon Blues,” “My Old School,” “Bodhisattva,” “Don’t Take Me Alive,” and “Aja” – in favor of lesser-played fare. While this may not have satisfied some, most responded well to hearing album cuts like “I Got The News,” “Everything You Did,” and “Glamour Profession” played with gusto and fresh perspective. Also dusted off was “New Frontiers,” from Fagen’s first solo work, The Nightfly.

Consistent with Steely Dan tours of late, Fagen ceded his lead vocal duties for a couple tracks, as on a storming run-through of “Parker’s Band” – courtesy of backup vocalists Cindy Mizelle and Tawatha Agee – and a competent (albeit comparatively less exciting) take on “What A Shame About Me,” sung by keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Young.

Much like they exhibited in playing rarities, the Dan delivered the night’s most recognizable songs with invigorative panache. They jazzed up “Show Biz Kids” with vehement percussion while, on “Babylon Sisters,” they leveled a hard line of bass and brass. Becker served up some particularly heated guitar solos on “Hey Nineteen” and “Josie” while Fagen – ever the image of hip in dark shades and black leather coat – worked his mojo on “Black Friday” and “Kid Charlemagne,” swaying and twitching in time. “FM” then escalated into a rollicking jam to close the set, the band vamping just long enough for Becker and Fagen to saunter off stage.