For Steely Dan the mantra has been to keep the status-quo, whether with new material or at a live show. And that rang true Wednesday night at a sparsely filled Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Saint Louis.
Even though Steely Dan has only released two new albums in the past 34 years their fans don’t seem to mind, and Steely Dan don’t seem too rushed to change that.
Replete with complex arrangements infused with R&B and funk the duo (guitarist Walter Becker and vocalist/keyboardist Donald Fagen) led their robust backing band through an evening of musical selections that hasn’t changed much in the last several years.
With a setlist that read more like a deep cuts jam session than a greatest hits set, the evening was obviously geared to the serious fan. Seriously, who omits three of their six Top 20 songs, including their two biggest in “Do It Again” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, unless they are complacent in trying to attract new fans?
It’s easy to understand if a casual fan were to get bored at a Steely Dan show, what with so many deep cuts like “Black Cow”, “Bodhisattva” and “Babylon Sisters” becoming tour staples. But, it’s hard to set a staple then remove it without tearing some paper, and the paper is, of course, the core fans.
Donald Fagen may have lost an edge in the vocal range over the years but he more than made up for it by being seemingly possessed by the spirit of Ray Charles. His soulful artwork rang the emotional bell for many who came out to see Steely Dan.
During the few times the band addressed the crowd Becker rambled on with seemingly no direction while trying to introduce the band and just talking to the crowd. It was painful at times, like watching a young teen making his first attempt at public speaking, veering off with references that got lost on many in the crowd.
However, other than Becker’s rambling (and his attempt at vocals on “Black Friday” and “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More”) the performance was technically near perfect. Becker’s nimble fingers and skillful stylings on the axe leading the way, Steely Dan breezed through a relaxed evening of soulful and emotional song selections to make avid fans drool. Steely Dan kept what has been working for them. That is, to keep the core fans happy.
Throughout the night they shared the spotlight, literally, with each member of the backing band and the backup singers (The Danettes) who were more than capable for the task at hand and delighted the crowd with strong vocals and technically perfect playing.
Whereas Steely Dan was not concerned with chart toppers and songs the casual fan may know opener Elvis Costello roared through an impressive 60 minute set that read like a greatest hits album.
Cruising along on songs like “Veronica” and “Everyday I Write the Book” Costello took artistic discretion with the signatures and arrangement of some of the songs and they still sounded great. The Imposters (Elvis’ backing band consisting of Steve Nieve on keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher on bass) were super tight and didn’t miss a beat.
With a mix of flair, intelligence, cool beats and great lyrics Costello connected with older fans while remaining relevant to newer fans as well. This rang especially true on selections like “Pump It Up” and “Alison”.
It’s not hard to figure out that to a casual fan Costello could have stolen the show, but the core fan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Steely Dan Setlist:
Teenie’s Blues (Oliver Nelson cover) Band instrumental without Becker/Fagen)
Time Out of Mind
Show Biz Kids
Razor Boy (Sung by the Danettes)
Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More
I Want To (Do Everything for You) (Joe Tex cover)
My Old School
Reelin’ in the Years
The Untouchables (Nelson Riddle cover) (Band instrumental without Becker/Fagen)
Elvis Costello Setlist:
I Hope You’re Happy Now
Watching the Detectives
Accidents Will Happen
(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea
Flutter and Wow
One Bell Ringing Jimmie Standing in the Rain
Everyday I Write the Book
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
Pump It Up
(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (Brinsley Schwarz cover)