"Jazz-Rock ambassadors to the planet" Steely Dan (perhaps better thought of as a brand than a band- not in the crass reality-persona-as-fragrance sense, but like Blaupunkt or Bavarian Motor Works they) are synonymous with one thing: High Fidelity. Moreover they are properly a duo - longtime collaborators pianist/lyricist/vocalist Donald Fagen and Walter Becker- helming over the years countless ensembles of the highest paid guns of the rarified realms of jazz and rock session musicians.
On this to capacity outing, the 12,000 soft seated largely and perhaps fittingly Boomer audience members, The Duo were less backed then fronted by the 8 piece Miles High Big Band and female vocalists the Embassy Brats. Fans of the Dan have rightly come to expect from the ensemble just what Fagen and Becker demanded as composers and producers of their hired help (the fools to do their dirty work): exasperating competence. The studied audience no doubt also demands note-perfect renditions of their concise but incredibly dense and melifluous compositions. Here their near constant touring of late (this marked their fourth Toronto outing in three years) bore distinct dividends. While Fagen was undoubtedly the brass ring around which each player reached, leaving a besmirked Becker to happily play the silent partner, this version of Steely Dan felt very much - pleasantly but also surprisingly - like a band, not two bandleaders and a handful of ace sidemen and women.
By the time Black Friday came Fagen seemed to be summoning a witching hour, a hoochie coochie swampy voodoo seance of brazen chops and pocket playing. Rather than sticking with note and rote renditions of FM radio staples like Hey Nineteen and Boddhisattva the band seemed to have not only the moxy but moreover the requisite permission and hall pass to roam the corridors and solo tastefully within the expanded compositions.
Holding a dead lock on the Shuffle Diplomacy tour's stage the Miles High Big Band evinced their deep kinship, in particular bassist Freddie 'Boom Boom' Washington, crowd pleasing and slick-as-hell guitarist Jon Herington and perhaps most notably lazer honed drummer Keith Carlock.
With a four piece horns section of Roger Rosenberg (Baritone Saxophone), Walt Weiskopf (Saxophone), Jim Pugh (Trombone) Michael Leonhart (Trumpet) and second keyboardist Jim Beard normally taut numbers like Dirty Work got the royal treatment. This wasn't Tony Soprano's singalong radio version nor was My Old School which gave everyone a chance to solo like a Mardi Gras Day, giving a feeling more like they were backing Dr. John and not Steely Dan. The infusion of a live band ethos, Fagen's frequent strolls in front of his Wurlitzer's and Rhodes to solo on Melodica and Keytar and Becker's carefully traded solos (particular on the contractually obligated Reelin' In The Years) with younger gun Herington served to draw in the gathered throng well beyond deep reverence, shock and awe.
Steely Dan, Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto, ON - 07/22/11
Time Out of Mind
Show Biz Kids
Neighbour's Daughter (Lee Dorsey cover)
Monkey in Your Soul
My Old School
Reelin' In The Years