Steely Dan at the Greek Theater: Concert Review

Delivering its own brand of jazz-rock fusion to a buzzing crowd, the band continues a more than three decades-old run of confounding musical skeptics. 

Once the most successful and famous studio collaborations in the history of music, these days, Steely Dan have established themselves as a clear touring act with a nearly 20-year history to draw from. On their current summer trek, the 45-date “Shuffle Diplomacy” 2011 tour, which kicked off July 2 in Seattle, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, joined by the Miles High Band, are revisiting a run of dates from 2009 where they performed both complete albums and favorites selected by fans.

For the first of two nights at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Becker and Fagen gave the fans the best of both worlds, playing the 1977 album Aja in its entirety to kick off the show. Highlighted by a sublime “Deacon Blues,” the joyous “Peg,” and “Home At Last,” the seven-song sequence wrapped up with an inspired “Josie,” which earned the band the first of several standing ovations.

After completing the first part of their mission, Fagen addressed the crowd. “So what do you want to do now?” he asked. “We have a few things we worked up.”

What they worked up was a heady mix of recognizable hits like “Hey Nineteen” and “Bodhisattva” and deeper cuts such as “You Got The Bear,” a song Fagen introduced as having been written for Aja, though it never made the album, and the title cut to 2003’s Everything Must Go, which Fagen called an underrated album.

As a skilled live act, which Steely Dan unquestionably are at this point, especially with a superb 11-piece backing band that includes four horn players and three back-up singers, the group also understands the importance of pacing, as such songs like “Kid Charlemagne” and the aforementioned “Bodhisattva,” while not as commercially successful as radio staples “Do It Again” or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” take preeminent places in the show. The nostalgic and live appeal come together though on “Reelin’ In The Years,” which literally had fans on their feet dancing.

If Steely Dan, a group whose sardonic and cerebral word play is most closely matched by the literacy of Elvis Costello and whose jazz musicianship is worthy of a headlining slot at the Village Vanguard or Blue Note, seem an unlikely act to have a crowd grooving in the aisles, it’s just the continuation of a remarkable three-decade run in which they’ve confounded casual listeners and industry experts alike. While once considered unlikely to be rock radio stars or an in-demand touring act, the Steely Dan of today is both, and still doing it all in the band’s own inimitable way.


Black Cow
Deacon Blues
Home At Last
I Got The News
Your Gold Teeth
Hey Nineteen
Everything Must Go
Time Out Of Mind
Show Biz Kids
Neighbor’s Daughter
You Got The Bear
Reelin’ In The Years
Kid Charlemagne