Donald Fagen of Steely Dan performs in front of a crowd of 4,100 concertgoers at the Toledo Zoo.
Steely Dan gave new meaning to sweatin’ to the oldies Wednesday night, as the nearly 40-year-old jazz-rock outfit joyously revisited its musical past under a thick canopy of steaming air at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre.
Give this to Steely Dan and its enduring popularity that approximately 4,100 concertgoers turned out for the band’s show — a near sellout — despite the heat wave. It was unofficially 98 degrees when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers launched into the breezy opening of “Aja” at 8:15 p.m.
The oppressive temperature didn’t seem to faze the group either — other than, perhaps, more brow wiping and chugs of bottled water between songs — as Steely Dan was onstage for all but five minutes of its nearly two-hour show.
The band that came to personify fussy studio craftsmanship was in peak concert form, with Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboard) and Walter Becker (guitar), aka Steely Dan, leading their impressive cadre of musicians: an eight-piece outfit including a four-piece horn section dubbed the “Miles High Band,” as well as three backup singers named “Embassy Brats.”
Steely Dan is on the road this summer for its “Shuffle Diplomacy” tour. With no new album to support, Wednesday night’s concert featured a 16-song set list that drew upon a few radio favorites — “Hey Nineteen,” “Peg,” and “Reelin’ in the Years” — along with deeper cuts — “Time Out of Mind,” “Your Gold Teeth,” and “Monkey in Your Soul,” the latter of which featured the vocal work of Becker. (There’s a reason he leaves the singing to Fagen.) There was also Lee Dorsey’s “Neighbor’s Daughter” thrown in as well, though casual Steely Dan fans may have groused at hearing an obscure R&B cover instead of “F.M.,” “Do It Again,” or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
Walter Becker of Steely Dan didn't disappoint the crowd.
Also missing was any acknowledgement of Steely Dan’s two most recent albums, 2000’s “Two Against Nature” and 2003’s “Everything Must Go.”
Given that Steely Dan has always been about meticulous production during recording sessions, much of the joy of its live experience is to watch the band work so hard to recreate its records in concert; often the only differences between the studio and live songs Wednesday night were an extended guitar solo by Jon Herington or a drum fill by Keith Carlock, both Steely Dan veterans, to pad the concert versions.
In a Steely Dan show every musician is guaranteed deserving moments in the spotlight. The trio of backup singers, Tawatha Agee, Carolyn Escoffery, and Catherine Russell, for example, handled the vocal duties on “Dirty Work,” one of only two songs Fagan did not record lead vocals (the other is “Slang of Ages”), and provided the song a gospel feel, with the chastising chorus of “I’m a fool to do your dirty work” made into a spiritual declaration. The horn section was also given a workout.
Despite the brevity of the number of songs in the set, the band covered a large swath of American music, from pop and jazz to R&B and rock. Everything was tight, precise, and tasteful — there’s no such thing as excess when it comes to a Steely Dan concert. Except for the heat Wednesday night. And even that didn’t seem to matter.
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6734.