By Devon Wendell
Los Angeles, CA. While a countless number of teenie-bopper drones sat at home and fell for MTV’s latest publicity stunt featuring Miley Cyrus on Sunday night, Steely Dan put on a stellar show featuring some of their greatest hits for an enthusiastic crowd of fans at The Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on the group’s Mood Swings tour.
Opening the show was the Deep Blue Organ Trio (Chris Foreman: Hammond B3, Greg Rockingham: drums, and Bobby Broom on electric guitar.) which performed a brief set of funky swing blues and hard-bop numbers ala Larry Young and Groove Holmes.
Each band member played without flash or gimmicks and stayed true to the genre. This was a no-nonsense organ jazz trio. Broom’s guitar arpeggios and bluesy leads on the trio’s be-bop rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” blended perfectly with Foreman’s gospel-flavored B3 chops.
When Steely Dan (Jim Beard: keyboards, Keith Carlock: drums, Jon Herrington: guitar, Michael Leonhart: trumpet, keys, Jim Pugh: trombone, Roger Rosenberg: baritone sax, Freddie Washington: bass, Walt Weiskopf: saxophone, Catherine Russell, La Tanya Hall and Carolyn Leonhart-Escofferey: backing vocals) took the stage, tackling what sounded like an up-tempo Duke Ellington number, it was immediately evident that this band has gained a strong rapport by playing together over the last decade.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker strolled casually onto the stage, leading the band through classics such as: “Your Gold Teeth,” “Aja,” “Show Biz Kids,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Black Cow,” “Deacon Blues” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
Fagen had the relaxed cool swagger of a hipper than hip bluesman, hitting syncopated chords on his Fender Rhodes keyboard. His vocals were more confident and daring than they were on the original recorded versions of these hits.
Becker’s guitar too has aged in a fine, soulful manner with a thick, rich vibrato reminiscent of a young Otis Rush. The long “soulful symmetry” between these two group founders could be felt on every nuance and number this evening.
The horn section was in top form. Roger Rosenberg’s baritone sax solo was a brilliant addition to “Show Biz Kids” and Walt Weiskopf nailed Wayne Shorter’s original sax solo on “Aja,” even taking it to new heights.
The backing vocals and dance moves of Russell, Leonhart-Escoffrey, and Hall added a sultry mood to the music and to the funky, laid back stage ambiance.
On guitar driven numbers such as “Black Friday,” “Peg,” and “Reelin’ In The Years,” Jon Herrington showed off his skilled guitar leads without trying to sound too close to the original solos. Becker’s solos were sweet, slow, and masterfully economic.
The highlight of the show was the band’s jazz/funk arrangement of “Do It Again,” featuring brilliant keyboard work by Fagen and psychedelic soulful guitar by Becker.
Fagen played the melodica on “Time Out Of Mind” proving that he is one of the only musicians to truly play this instrument on key.
Though Becker has only sung lead a few times in Steely Dan history, his low down, mellow voice was perfect on the pure blues of “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More.”
The show ended with rollicking but tight renditions of “My Old School” and an encore of “Kid Charlemagne.”
Steely Dan’s performance at the Nokia was skillful, flawless, and fun. Which are three qualities you don’t hear many rock ‘n’ roll oriented bands pull off – either today, or when Steely Dan first came on the scene over 40 years ago.
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Steely Dan photo courtesy of Steely Dan.
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