If it was up to the capacity crowd last night, Steely Dan’s performance would have lasted well-beyond the just over two hours that partners in crime Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and their 11-piece band performed. It was that good.
As advertised, it was Aja night, with set one being a performance of the classic 1977 album in it’s entirety (tonight’s second show will feature 1976’s The Royal Scam; trust me, it was a tough choice to pick one night over another). No big special effects with this kind of show; it was all about top-flight musicianship. I did get a kick though when, to signal the start of the Aja set, one of the backup singers placed an album on a turntable at the side of the stage then flipped it over to ‘side two’ at the appropriate moment. The band was met with tremendous cheers and applause at the conclusion of each song from Aja, and when Part 1 of the evening was done, it was onto the real fun of the night.
Hitting the ground running with one of my faves “Bodhisattva” from 1973’s Countdown To Ecstasy, it was one crowd-pleasing number after another. With such an amzing catalogue of material to choose from, and going in you know an entire album is going to be played, there were bound to be tunes not played which I would have loved to have heard, such as Do It Again and FM. But still, one can’t fault them, this is Steely Dan after all, and for those of us who have been fans of the band for years and years, they could really do no wrong.
Donald Fagen held court mostly at his electric piano at center stage, lurching back and forth like a man possesed but he was having a great time, part lead vocalist, part ringmaster. Guitarist Walter Becker, who’s looking more and more like an English professor the older he gets, took lead vocals on Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More, and also took charge of the band intros while the band played the Supremes Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart. Didn’t expect that one, but a lot of fun nonetheless.
The post-Aja setlist covered tracks from various points in their career, form the aformentioned Bodhisattva , to Don’t Take Me Alive, to Black Friday (to which I said “YES!”. Love that song) to a couple of tracks from 1980’s Gaucho. The lone latter-day track was Godwhacker from 2003’s Everything Must Go. (Nothing from 2000’s Grammy winning Two Against Nature).
The sole encore, the outstanding Reelin’ in the Years, had the crowd on its feet wanting more. Kudos go out to drummer Keith Carlock and lead guitarist Jon Herington, who thoughout the evening more than held their own in not only recreating the solos and fills that are so familiar from the records but for providing the solid musicianship that has alwas been the cornerstone of Steely Dan, both live and on record.
Pardon the pun (but I can’t resist) the band will Do It Again tonight. The final show of the tour hits Montreal on Saturday.
Opening act Chicgao-based Deep Blue Organ Trio (just one killer Hammond B-3 organ actually, plus drums and guitar) provided a brief of but upbeat set of jazz-blues instrumentals that the crowd ate up which set the mood for what was to come, including a well-received cover of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love“.
Steely Dan set list:
Home at Last
I Got the News
Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More
Dirty Work (sung by the backup singers)
Love is Like an Itching in My Heart (band intros)
Don’t Take Me Alive
My Old School
Reelin’ In The Years
My attempts to get a decent video of Steely Dan were thwarted by the Massey Hall security goons who told me to turn off my camera. Oh well, I tried. Here’s what I got. Better than nothing: