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Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, Fla.
Tuesday, May 8

With its sturdy classic-era catalog and hip pedigree, famed studio collective Steely Dan has emerged in recent years -- somewhat surprisingly -- as one of the concert industry's go-to heritage acts. Although consistently dogged by the rap that they've never been particularly scintillating onstage, the band can (on the right night) actually be terrific in concert and in fact has another long summer itinerary mapped out -- all through the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia, including five nights at New York's Beacon Theatre during the next four weeks.

Yet while Tuesday's tour launch at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla., had its moments, it was at best only an intermittently satisfying evening and not even close to the jaunty performance the guys put on at this very venue just nine months ago during their '06 summer run.

On this new trek, such hits as "Hey Nineteen," "Black Cow," "Do It Again" and "Dirty Work" seemed to have been bathed in molasses, rendering them oddly sluggish. Less melodic tunes such as "Two Against Nature" and "Green Earrings" also left the crowd restless, while unnecessarily illuminating the vocal limitations of frontmen Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

The reception was considerably warmer for the wistful "Time Out of Mind," "Peg," "Josie" and "My Old School." A boisterous "Bodhisattva" brought the show to a firm climax -- but also a strange end. As Fagen and Becker left the stage, band members lingered with a jazzy coda, implying, it seemed, that the inevitable encores ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "Reelin' in the Years," maybe?) were to come. Yet after a long vamp, the house lights were suddenly on, the too-brief 90-minute set surprisingly over.

With 2003's "Everything Must Go" providing enough potent latter-day material to weave between the oldies, this is an act that doesn't have to toy with arrangements in a bid to seem current -- or hurry offstage because they're out of stuff.

For that matter, where were the lustrous "Pearl of the Quarter," "Deacon Blues," "FM," "Aja," "The Boston Rag," "The Royal Scam" and on and on? With tickets at $100-plus in many cities, every set ought to be meaty. If Steely Dan wants to continue as a summer workhorse for concert companies chasing the last of the boomer bucks, it will have to up its dependability quotient. Otherwise, they're just those quirky studio guys from the '70s.
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