What do you get when you combine eleven seasoned jazz musicians with incredible backgrounds and unbelievable recording credits with two of the most successful, creative and talented song writers of the last 40 years? You get Steely Dan. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen formed Steely Dan in the early 70’s and released their first album, “Countdown To Ecstasy” in 1972, and they were off and running. Eventually Fagen and Becker became the sole members of Steely Dan using talented studio musicians to record and tour ever since, some staying with the duo for many years.
Steely Dan brought their 13 piece band to the Reno Events Center Sunday evening and played more than two hours of incredible hits. There wasn’t enough time in the evening to play everything that everybody wanted to hear, but they satisfied none the less. Their unique style of jazz / rock fusion is like no other, and has proven to be highly difficult for others to play.
The show started with the horn and rhythm sections (The Bipolar All-stars) taking the stage and playing an up-tempo jazz piece with solos by each member as an intro. As this neared its ending Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and the trio of background singers (The Borderline Brats) came up on stage to a round of applause, and the band broke into Your Gold Teeth. They followed with Aja which featured drummer Keith Carlock playing the most incredible syncopated drum fills I’ve heard in years. Fagen also stepped out front playing a solo on the melodica (a wind driven hand held keyboard) on this selection.
Next up was Hey Nineteen with a mid-song musical interlude/monologue where Walter Becker spun a tale of audience members saving their hard earned cash to buy expensive show tickets, drinks, and t-shirts and then, upon getting home want the fun to continue. They go to the back of the closet, dig out their old stash box, dig out their ‘cheeba’, roll it up, and find an old bottle of gold liquor called… called… At this point the full band kicks back in with the Borderline Brats singing, “The Cuervo Gold. The fine Columbian make tonight a wonderful thing.” It was a very fun break.
Some of the other songs that filled the evening were Lost Wages, Black Friday, Time Out of Mind, Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More (sung by Becker), Bodhisattva, Razor Boy and Babylon Sister. During the only cover selection of the night, Joe Tex’s I Want To (Do Everything For You) they did band introductions.
From here the energy started ramping up (if that was possible). Great performers know how to arrange a set to get the crowd jumping, and this was the point of no return for anybody who was trying to stay seated. The energy in the room became more and more electric as they ran through Josie, Peg, and My Old School. After the conciliatory ‘leaving of the stage’, they returned to encore with Reelin’ In The Years and ended the show with Kid Charlemagne.
Donald Fagens repartee with the audience was so relaxed and natural that he sounded like he was in a small club doing what he had done thousands of times before, night after night. Sitting at the keyboard and singing he resembled Ray Charles swaying back and forth. His body language is that of somebody deeply involved in the moment. The Borderline Brats were beautiful in their black dresses, and they had the rock and roll sway down perfect. The lighting was stationary, but obviously choreographed throughout, matching the music and hitting the soloists all night. It was an amazing show. The house was not sold out, but it was very full. Truly an evening I will remember for a long time.
And the beat goes on…
By Nick McCabe