Steely Dan, April 29, 2017: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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The Venetian, Las Vegas: Since I’m on the downside of middle age, I feel comfortable in confessing I am a Steely Dan geek. What does that mean, you ask?

I have a Steely Dan T-shirt – actually about 20, and most fit over my expanding mid-section. I have every Steely Dan LP, CD and related book, as well as Walter Becker solo CDs, Donald Fagen solo CDs and a shit load of bootlegs CDs and DVDs. I have seen them more times than I can remember, including the rarities concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York and the multi-concert residency a few years back at the Chicago Theater. Oh yeah, I also saw Donald Fagen in Chicago, supporting Morph the Cat.

Given these facts, it is no surprise I trekked to Lost Wages to see Walter and Don et.al, at the Venetian. I still get excited at the prospect of seeing Steely Dan, and my excitement has doubled because I don’t believe there will be a major U.S. tour from the band given Donald Fagen’s upcoming solo dates.

Steely Dan demonstrated the power and precision of a group which has played together as long as this one has. Before Becker and Fagen even hit the stage, the band was kicking it with “Fan It Janet.” The song was a perfect vehicle for the powerhouse horn section to warm up and the rhythm section of drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Freddy Washington to show their jazz chops.

In short order, Jon Herington, the guitarist and musical director, locked in with Jim Beard’s simulated clavinet and the band moved into “Black Cow.” Walter and Don were treated with applause fitting their stature, and the groove was off. “Black Cow” is a fascinating jazz-soul vessel, and Jim Beard’s piano solo would have been its highlight but for the rousing baritone solo by Roger Rosenberg. This song has never sounded better.

Aja” followed, with Fagen sounding strong and engaged. Walter Becker stepped briefly to play his solos, which were bluesy and tasteful, while Jon Herington added a bebop edge to his solo work. Not to be outdone, Walt Weiskopf stepped to center stage with a mind-blowing tenor solo. To bring things to a proper conclusion, Keith Carlock channeled the great Dan drummer performances of the past to end the song with his fantastic solo.

Hey Nineteen” is a fun ride with Becker’s always-entertaining improvised rap and a dazzling trombone solo by Jim Pugh. In rapid succession, the laid-back blues shuffle of “Black Friday” followed, with simmering lead guitar work by Becker and blinding string bending solos by Herington on “Show Biz Kids.” The reimagined version of the song was perfectly suited for the setting and Becker’s lead guitar stings.

The mid-set appearance of “Kid Charlemagne” gave Herington another opportunity to dazzle with his technical prowess and passion. No matter how many times I’ve seen him play, I’m always amazed. Equally amazing was the appearance of “Two Against Nature.” The female vocalists, Carolyn Leonhart, Cindy Mizelle and LaTonya Hall shone, singing the background harmonies from the title track to the Grammy-winning album. Fagen’s delivery was spot on and Becker’s lead and solo guitar was almost as magical as Walt Weiskroph’s sax solos.

The ladies got another opportunity to shine with the well-worn “Dirty Work,” which features a delicate and all-too-brief Michael Leonhart trumpet solo before the fire is turned up again with “Bodhisattva.” Herington’s Gibson SG conjures up both Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias. The song could have only been made better it Becker had taken the end solo.

Becker did get to shine with his sly telling of “Daddy Don’t Live In New York City No More.” Becker’s voice is well suited to the song, and his guitar solo was rousing and a great lead. “Home at Last” from Aja made a surprise appearance, and gave Becker yet another opportunity to cast a spell – which then in turn inspired Jim Heard’s piano work and Michael Leonhart’s trumpet solo.

Next, Steely Dan slowed things down with Joe Tex’s “I Want To Do ( Everything For You).” The band simmered while the Danettes threatened to blow the lid off the song, and Becker delivered his trademark and hilarious band intros. At this point, Steely Dan dashed to the finish line with “Josie,” “Peg,” “My Old School” and “Reelin’ in the Years” in rapid succession. The band returned with Becker and Fagen for an encore of “Pretzel Logic,” and before you knew it Steely Dan was gone.

Was this the best Steely Dan concert ever? Probably not, but it was a great one and given the passing of a lot of musical heroes recently, it was much appreciated by the audience. Steely Dan played hit after hit, leaving the audience – as Walter Becker quipped – “rode hard and put up wet.” Truly, it’s a show I will never forget.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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