On a muggy but mercifully rain-free Thursday night at Marymoor Park, Steely Dan and its crack musical entourage rolled out the hits in a stylish, powerful concert that reached back to the beginnings of the band’s 40-year career.
The two-hour set by the iconic ‘70s jazz-rock group — led by singer and pianist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker — included such favorites as “Aja,” “Babylon Sisters,” “Peg,” “Josie” and “Reelin’ in the Years,” but featured a few rarely performed songs from the past, notably “Razor Boy” from the 1973 album “Countdown to Ecstasy” (also from the same album: “Bodhisattva,” “Your Gold Teeth,” “Show Biz Kids” and the anthemic “My Old School”).
The famously eccentric Fagen and Becker have named their current tour “Mood Swings: 8 Days to Pancake Day,” setting the stage for an entertaining, nostalgic romp through the past. A crowd dominated by baby boomers grooved on the sounds of an era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Fagen, whose silky vocals have always been a distinctive element of the Steely Dan sound, did most of the singing, accompanying himself on electric piano or playing Melodica. Crouched over the piano, he often lunged at the keys.
Becker’s guitar playing was first-rate. But he also served as a kind of master-of-ceremonies, interjecting humorous comments. During “Hey Nineteen,” he said, “This is the greatest night of the summer because you’re here and we’re here”; and curiously, “I feel more like I do now than when I first got here.” Later, he fumbled his introduction of the band, but laughed it off.
Backing the two former college buddies who met in 1967 at Bard College in New York State were the 10-piece Bipolar Allstars (featuring such ace players as lead guitarist Jon Herington and drummer Keith Carlock, plus a four-piece horn section) and all-woman vocal trio Borderline Brats, highlighted on “Razor Boy” and other songs. The result was an extremely tight show with a rich, full sound highlighting Steely Dan’s distinctive blend of fusion jazz, rock, blues and R&B.
The group finished its main set with “Reelin’ in the Years,” the second single from the duo’s 1972 debut album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” bringing the crowd to its feet.
A spirited encore featured “Kid Charlemagne” (the 1976 song about the ‘60s psychedelic drug scene) and the Bipolar Allstars on Nelson Riddle’s memorable “Untouchables” theme.
Opening was the Chicago-based Deep Blue Organ Trio, featuring Hammond B3 organist Chris Foreman, guitiarist Bobby Broom and drummer Greg Rockingham.
Playing a cool blend of jazz and blues, the group performed “Tell Me Something Good” (the Stevie Wonder song written for Chaka Khan) and “Jesus Children of America,” both from “Wonderful,” the trio’s Wonder tribute album. The trio’s short set was a perfect warmup for Steely Dan.
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org