Steely Dan at Jacobs Pavilion
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
July 23, 2013
Time flies when you are having fun and it's hard to believe that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, collectively known as Steely Dan, are well into that life niche known as the senior years. Fortunately, they still have a thing for the road, which means their iconic repertoire can be heard live in select cities once every few years. For Cleveland fans, it has been a long haul. Back in 2011, The Dan skipped a northern Ohio location, heading for Cincinnati instead. Prior to that, you'd have to go back to the fall of 2009 for an area performance, which happened to actually be a two-night stand in Akron.
Not at all surprising, Steely Dan's return to Cleveland at Jacobs Pavilion on July 23rd was strictly a sold-out affair. This 5,000 seat open-air amphitheater is a wonderful place to catch a show, nestled on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Fortunately, the weather co-operated, making it a special evening at the front end of what is being billed as the Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day Tour. Having kicked off the road trip on July 19th in Atlantic City, the band was tight and fresh with inspiration. By the time they wrap things up in October, they will have played over 50 some dates across the country.
For the past four or five years, The Dan's opening act has been Chicago's own Deep Blue Organ Trio, a top-notch jazz unit featuring organist Chris Foreman , guitarist Bobby Broom, and drummer Greg Rockingham. It's a shame the audience didn't quite give these guys the props they deserve, the chatter and overall din often rising to sound levels close to the actual music. The trio delivered a solid set of three numbers. Victor Feldman's "The Chant" got things smoldering with a steady burn lit by Broom's funky licks. The Hank Mobley classic "This I Dig of You" was updated with a clever vamp and it also featured some choice organ work from Foreman. Drawing from the Stevie Wonder canon, "Tell Me Something Good" hit its stride with an in-the-pocket groove that provided perfect closure for a brief, but enjoyable opening gambit.
After a brief set change, The Bipolar All-stars (i.e. the rhythm section and horns) took to the stage with a swing number that doubled as sophisticated introduction for the entrance of Fagen and Becker. Then it was off to work, "Your Gold Teeth" offering up the signature sound of Fagen's pipes, still sounding spot on and up to snuff. Surprisingly, that would lead right into "Aja," a real workout that featured a tenor solo from Walt Weiskopf and the closing drum foray from Keith Carlock. Damn, just two numbers into the show and these guys were already kicking butts and taking no prisoners. "Hey Nineteen" would then serve as a vehicle for a fine Jim Pugh trombone solo and "Show Biz Kids" brought with it turns from Becker on guitar and Weiskopf this time on alto horn.
As the set continued with iconic numbers such as "Green Earrings," "King of the World," and "Time Out of Mind," there was plenty of space given to the entire band, a sagacious decision considering that Fagen and Becker choose to surround themselves with some heavyweight talent. The entire horn section had a chance to blow on "Godwhacker," oddly enough the only number from their recent catalog that the duo seems to perform. Becker stepped in for his vocal feature on "Monkey in Your Soul" before a rousing "Bodhisattva" brought everyone in the house to their feet, the magic in the air seemingly palpable at that point.
As the night rolled on, it became obvious that Becker and Fagen had honed in on material from their 1973 album Countdown to Ecstasy (MCA), eventually throwing on the set list six out of the album's original eight tunes. "Razor Boy" provided a feature for The Borderline Brats, the three-piece vocal unit of Carolyn Leonhart, La Tanya Hall, and Catherine Russell. They would also lend their considerable chops to "Babylon Sisters" before Becker hit the stage for his stand-up comedy act also known as the band introductions.
Upbeat material made up the back end of the show, namely "Josie," "Peg," "My Old School," and "Reeling in the Years." Impressive guitar work was to be heard from musical director Jon Herington. While his on-stage demeanor is all business like, he can rip into searing solos with the best of them, often upstaging Becker at his own game. It should also be noted that the drummer is so important in the success of these Dan trinkets and it's hard to imagine anyone better able to handle the drum chair than Carlock. He's simply a monster technician with an organic groove that is rock solid to the max.