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Donald Fagen Band Palace Theater Cleveland, Ohio March 15, 2006
It's somewhat remarkable to ponder the fact that Donald Fagen and Steely Dan have continued to make substantive music without compromise in a musical world that has changed dramatically since the rock and roll era of the '70s. Even after one listen to Fagen's new solo disc, Morph the Cat, you can't help but be struck by the fact that the writing is as strong as ever, even if the sophisticated approach might fall on deaf ears to those used to the ponderous and dense cacophony of today's pop landscape. While Fagen's solo career spans a quarter of a century between The Nightfly and Morph, the most recent disc is only his third as a leader and his time out on the road sans Dan partner Walter Becker has been equally limited, making this month's tour a rarified event.
Backed by a nine-piece group (Jeff Young on keyboards, drummer Keith Carlock, bassist Freddie Washington, guitarists Jon Herington and Wayne Krantz, Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Walt Weiskopf on sax, Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle on backup vocals), Fagen offered a two hour set in Cleveland that touched on a wide range of music including a few cuts from the new album. Interesting to consider is the fact that Fagen performed no less than five tunes from The Nightfly, probably most of them rarely if ever having been performed in front of a live audience. From the Dan catalog, Fagen cherry picked lesser-known numbers such as "Home at Last, "Black Cow, "FM, and "Pretzel Logic, which proved to be a sagacious move. Furthermore, he gave them a fresh face by slowing down the tempos, which allowed the soloists more time to bask in the fertile harmonies.
The lion's share of the solos went to guitarist Wayne Krantz, his more progressive stance proving to be a nice contrast to Herington's approach, which more closely recalled Becker or Larry Carlton. Walt Weiskopf updated the closing jam on "Black Cow and devoured the blues changes on the warhorse "Misery and the Blues, the latter proving to be an offbeat, but apropos number for Fagen's vocals. Weiskopf also sustained the mood with great poise throughout "Mary Shut the Garden Door, a striking number from the new album. While Fagen's track record might suggest that it could be years before we see something like this again on stage, one can only hope for an encore.