Steely Dan, Bank of America Pavilion, May 29, 2007
Age seems to agree with Steely Dan, whose leaders — Walter Becker and Donald Fagen — are looking more like the kind of jazz musicians they used to idolize. True, there was some nostalgia involved in their show at the Bank of America Pavilion last week — nearly all the songs came from the ’70s. But the band seemed less concerned with sounding just like the old records and more with reinterpreting the material.
They didn’t even bother playing the hits. (No “Do It Again,” “Reeling In the Years,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” or “Peg” — which left “FM” and “Hey Nineteen” to represent their only real hit singles.) After a half-dozen reunion tours, they’re getting around to second-tier album tracks like “I Got the News,” from 1977’s Aja; that one provided a slinky Latin frame for solos, and it includes one of the funniest erotic couplets in rock: “Slow down, I’ll tell you when/I may never walk again.”
The cool reserve of the studio albums got warmed up a little — drummer Keith Carlock and R&B session ace bassist Freddie Washington are easily the funkiest rhythm section in Dan history, and there was some joyful interplay among the four horn players. Yet the revelation in this line-up is Becker. Originally the group’s bassist, he switched to guitar during their ’70s run, stepping up only for the occasional solo. But last week he stepped up on almost every tune, and his solos — lean and lyrical, with stinging high notes and absolutely no cheap power chords — were right up the Steely Dan alley of getting down without breaking a sweat.
In this company, Fagen had only to show up with his voice fairly intact, which he did. (He let the two back-up singers cover for him on the high notes.) It’s hard to imagine this band with a different singer — his voice embodies the dry wit and hipster cynicism of the words. Celebration broke through at the end, as “Bodhisattva” was revved up past its normal speed and “FM” invited you to “give her some funked-up Muzak.”
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