Photo by Steve Jennings”We’re here to play some tunes for you from our fabulous career,” Donald Fagen joked during one of his rare utterances last night at the Wells Fargo Center, where Steely Dan’s 13-piece band held sway for the last two nights of their “Think Fast!” 2008 summer tour. But that was no joke, as the night’s 19-song set only began to graze the depth of Steely Dan’s indeed, way-fabulous career.
Dan fans know that seeing the guys perform live will not give them any greater insight into Fagen’s cynical noggin or Becker’s laid-back mystique; in fact, seeing the guys perform live is to experience album-quality renditions of favorite songs, note for note. Given their jazz underpinnings, it might be strange that Steely Dan eschew live variation or improvisation, instead favoring exact replications of their recorded arrangements. Or, it might just be a Steely Dan concert.
We talk some shit here at the Boho, but seeing Steely Dan at the Wells Fargo Center last night was a sonic reminder that, at heart, this is a band that knows all about the pleasures of funk, back-beat, strong female voices and rock ‘n’ roll. There wasn’t a metaphoric male perm in the place as the band drew long and loud from Fagen’s bebop background to mix rock with pop with funk with jazz, all set against the intelligent snark of his simmering brain. At this point in his career, Fagen is like the Phillip Roth of rock: aging, raging, whip-smart and horny. You may not want to look at him, but you’ll damn sure listen to what he has to say.
Evening stand-outs included sizzling renditions of “Bodhisattva” and “Aja,” the latter bringing the crowd up for a sweet standing ovation. After a reduced band swung the night out with “The Fez,” Fagen and Becker strode out for a seamless transition into “The Royal Scam.” Fagen’s voice was nasal and rough at first but blossomed as the night continued. (The less said about Becker’s vocal attempt at “Gaucho” the better. After the first notes, I fruitfully spent the rest of that song in the ladies room, which doors offered a merciful muffle.)
Playing most of Aja as well as tracks from Fagen’s solo disc The Nightfly and a few more obscure numbers from deep back in the catalogue—and yes, I mean “Parker’s Band”—Steely Dan played all hits and no misses. Standing room tickets should still be available tonight and standing is a good bet for a short gig that is all about moving the body while tickling the soul.Set List
The Fez (instrumental)
The Royal Scam
I Got the News
Two Against Nature
?? – I couldn’t figure this one out; can anyone help?
Big Black Cow
Kid Charlemagne (encore)