Photo credit: Randall Michelson/Hewitt Silva-Live Nation
Steely Dan captain Donald Fagen carries an endearingly crumpled look; one that suggests how unimpressed with his own stature he appears to be, even 50 years into a growing legacy as one of the most revered musical artists. At Steely Dan’s sold out appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, Fagen sported a humble, zippered black hoodie and trademark styled-by-the-pillow hair. “What a night,” he (kind of) exclaimed early on, as though surprised by the ecstatic response, then questioned his audience full of glamorous stars whether or not glamor was still a thing.
Over the two-hour, nearly flawless recital of many a Steely Dan classic, he offered an oddly charming, “Wowee!” after several songs’ conclusion, or trailed off during his intro to “Green Flower Street,” as if thinking he was spending too much time talking. Glamor, or self-aggrandizement, have never been much associated with Fagen and his Steely Dan story. Elegance is another matter.
That’s perhaps the hallmark of this evening on the Earth After Hours tour; the elegance that thoughtfully populates the ideas and imagery Fagen and his late collaborator Walter Becker consistently and palpably injected into Steely Dan’s cocktail of jazz, soul, rock, and pop; as well, recruiting the best players available to help animate their shifting, sauntering grooves for a complete and lasting effect. His 12-piece backing ensemble today is just as loaded as Steely Dan’s albums were; a dozen ultra-talented performers, anchored by the timekeeping wonder of drummer Keith Carlock, the elastic movements of bassist Freddie Washington, and the superlative twin-guitar grandeur of Jon Herington and Adam Rogers.
It was a jukebox of memories for the full house, beginning with a run of “Night by Night,” “Hey Nineteen,” and “Black Friday,” with only a breath of a pause after the latter’s roadhouse blues. There was a gorgeously paced “Aja” and the immortal bop of “Kid Charlemagne” that held mostly tightly to their original arrangements. Then, the Dan’s baker’s dozen stretched, extending “Home At Last” into improvisational bliss.
With a smile, Fagen made a cryptic, passing reference to a “jamband list,” and worked pleasingly through deeper album cuts, “Babylon Sisters” and “Green Earrings,” before another blast of heyday on “FM (No Static at All),” “Dirty Work,” with its lead vocal handled by the Danettes trio of backup singers, and the sprinting “Bodhisattva.” Fagen ducked off stage, leaving the group to its own introductions during “Keep That Same Old Feeling,” then returned for a closing “Peg” and “My Old School,” the latter once again showcasing Herington and Rogers’ impeccably fluid efforts.
The encore, though an inevitable choice, was met with a roar; the timeless opening riff of “Reelin’ In The Years” raising 18,000 to their feet. Carlock got a last word, shuddering the Bowl and concluding the classic with a flourish. Then, the ensemble played Fagen off with Joe Williams’ “A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry,” closing an evening of musical elegance and five decades of Steely Dan.