Donald Fagen of Steely Dan once said," As jazz fans, it was amusing for us to play jazz harmonies on these big, ugly electric guitars." Although the instruments might have been ugly, Steely Dan’s smooth jazz rock has always been anything but.
On the evening of a dust storm following a 110 degree scorcher, there was enough empty lawn space at the Cricket Pavillion to set up a par 3 golf hole. The show was clearly undersold as opener Michael McDonald delivered his gray haired/blue eyed soul. Through his work with the Doobie Brothers and his solo catalogue, McDonald has one of the most recognizable baritones in rock history, as you can’t walk into a supermarket without hearing him play through the PR.
McDonald delivered his "Wallgreens" soundtrack with surprising gusto, as he opened with a revamped version of the Doobie’s "It Keeps You Running." Showcasing his piano skills and obvious vocal strengths, McDonald divided his hour set into 3 parts- solo works, Doobie Brothers originals and Motown covers. Although the songs were all recognizable– "I Keep Forgetting," "Sweet Freedom," "Minute by Minute," "What A Fool Believes" and "Taking it to the Streets" – the crowd seemed to be enjoying this tongue in cheek "Yacht Rock" blast from the past. Where was Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins?
However, following a tribute to recently passed away Arizona resident Billy Preston with "That’s the Way God Planned It," McDonald won the skeptics over with his strong Motown covers. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine, " I Second That Emotion" and "Aint No Mountain High Enough" proved McDonald can lay out the soul as good as his predecessors. The strong performance also reminded us that American Idol winner Taylor Hicks is no Michael McDonald.
With no new album to support, aside from Fagen’s recent solo release Morph the Cat, Steely Dan is touring in the name of Steelyard "Sugartooth" McDan and The Fab-Originees.com Tour, a homage to a ficitonal inventor of the blues. Exploring the tension between jazz and pop, Steely Dan laid it out with an additional keyboard player, lead guitarist, bassist, drummer, two backing singers and a four-piece horn section. Of course missing was longtime Steely Dan saxonphonist Cornelius Bumpus who recently passed away. The hour and forty five minute set mainly stretched through a "greatest hits" avenue, with no songs delivered from their two recent comeback albums Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go.
Fagen, the runaway winner of the white Ray Charles clone award, with his dark shades and commanding stage aura, had trouble hitting the notes on the first two numbers "Bodhisattva" and "Time Out of Mind. Fortunately, he had plenty of help from his back up singers. Highlights in the set included a saxophone battle between Walt Weiskopf and Roger Rosenberg during "Hey 19," settling the steam from a pre-show argument. Sheen versions of " Aja," "Josie," " Green Earrings" and "Black Friday" proved that Steely Dan might have had more hits than they even know what to do with. Following the band intros, former Dan collaborator McDonald came out to lend his pipes and piano work to "Show Biz Kids, " Do It Again" "Peg," "Don’t Take Me Alive" and "Kid Charlemagne," making for a long overdue reunion, as his voice clearly lays cemented in some of the band’s classic repertoire.
After the encore of "My Old School," Becker and Fagen left the stage and left the "orchestra" alone to jam to the outro of the early 80’s hit "FM." On this evening, Steely Dan proved that no matter how old you get, you don’t need to hear any " this is new song off our new album" B.S. to hit the shed circuit and deliver the classics. Perhaps Journey and Def Leppard are listening.
Bodhisattva, Time Out of Mind, Aja, I Got The News, Hey 19, Josie, Green Earrings, Black Friday, Dirty Work, Show Biz Kids, Do It Again, Peg, Don’t Take Me Alive, Kid Charlemagne
Encore- My Old School, FM
Steelyard "Sugartooth" McDan (and the Fab-Originees.com) Band
Jon Herington – Guitar
Freddie Washington – Bass
Keith Carlock – Drums
Jeff Young – Keyboards and Backing Vocals
Walt Weiskopf – Sax
Michael Leonhart – Trumpet
Jim Pugh – Trombone
Roger Rosenberg – Baritone Sax
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery – Backing Vocals
Cindy Mizelle – Backing Vocals
Walter Becker – Guitar
Donald Fagen – Keyboards and Vocals