Jazz-rock band Steely Dan took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, their first since opening night in June 2016 when the LA Phil played alongside founding members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Though Becker died the following year, his spirit and the band’s songs and show are as lively as ever, taking jazz funk band Snarky Puppy on tour with them for several weeks as their opener. “We’ve played here a few times but never before Steely Dan”, said bassist Michael League. “It’s humbling to be up here and to warm up the stage for them”.
Steely Dan opened with a cover of Stanley Wilson’s “Phantom Raiders”, the four horns (Roger Rosenberg on baritone and Walt Weiskopf on tenor saxophone), Michael Leonhart on trumpet and Jim Pugh on trombone, each killing it, with jazzy keys from Jim Beard on the instrumental as well. “Night by Night” was accompanied by some stellar jazzy moments and the background singers The Danettes (Catherine Russell, La Tanya Hall and Carolyn Leonhart) infused some soul, coupled with an amazing guitar solo.
The first big hit was 1980’s “Hey Nineteen”, a nostalgic throwback with a memorable vocal from Fagen, excellent harmonies, the horns sounding fresh and a solid piano solo as well as a guitar break (with Jon Herington and Adam Rogers) and a standout trombone solo. “Hey there kids, yeah, you’re lookin’ good tonight,” said Fagen. “You’re here in the Hollywood Bowl, so nice”.
Drummer Keith Carlock crushed it on “Black Friday” while the organ and horns held up as well. The beachy vibes of soft rock song “Aja” were there with Fagen on his upright melodica, accompanied by a stellar tenor sax and drum instrumental. The jazz moments throughout the set were highlighted by each instrument taking solos at one point or another. “Kid Charlemagne” offered funky wop-wop guitars, piercing horns and an excellent guitar solo. The band played “Home at Last” with an extended instrumental, with the fans going wild from the first chords followed by Donald Fagen’s “Green Flower Street” with the horns firing away.
“Time Out Of Mind” was hot and groovy and “Babylon Sisters”, a song all about Los Angeles and The Golden State had incredible moments on organ and an excellent muffled trumpet solo. The “funked up” “FM (No Static At All)” had some of the standout guitar moments of the night. The Danettes led the vocals on the 1972 classic “Dirty Work”, with another major trumpet solo.
The danceable “Bodhisattva” had its rockabilly instrumentation while the background singers had their tambourines in tow followed by the groovy pop-soul cover of The Crusaders’ “Keep That Same Old Feeling”. The entire band was introduced which also included Freddie Washington on bass (highlighted on the aforementioned song). The band did not disappoint on “Peg” sounding especially tight across the board, from the horns to the drums, guitars to keyboards and of course the vocals. Steely Dan wrapped up the main part of the set with the lively “My Old School”, with strong drums, guitars and keyboards.
When Fagen and the band returned on the stage, they played the timeless “Reelin’ In The Years” to perfection. “I’d like to thank everyone for coming out tonight and I’d like to thank my partner Walter Becker for writing these tunes”, said the very gracious Donald Fagen. They took the crowd out with a bluesy cover of Joe Williams’ “A Man Ain’t Supposed To Cry”. Celebrity fans Patricia Arquette and Mark Duplass were spotted in the crowd. Suffice it to say, even though “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Do It Again” did not make an appearance at this show, Steely Dan did it again at the Hollywood Bowl and cleaned up, “Dirty Work” and all.
Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Alex Kluft