WITH the passing of founder member Walter Becker in 2017, Steely Dan lost a vital organ. But there’s no band quite like the Dan and so Donald Fagan, Becker’s partner in musical sophistication, has kept this bittersweet medicine show on the road in tribute to their urbane jazz pop creation.
Steely Dan/Steve Winwood, Hydro, Glasgow ***
The band warmed up with Ray Bryant’s Cubano Chant, establishing the tight but swinging tone and their formidable technical credentials before Fagan had even made his entrance. A lively Bodhisattva was driven by the athletic drumming of Keith Carlock (described succinctly by Fagan as “a live one”) with pacey, dexterous guitar work from Jon Herington and spry, scatting backing vocals from the Danettes.
Everyone in the band was keen to show their mettle while also needing to keep that traffic flowing so, while each song was a production in itself, the set progressed nimbly. A smooth and satisfying Hey Nineteen created a melody millpond over which trombonist Jim Pugh could execute his fancy Dan moves while his fellow brass players each got their moment in the sun, not least saxophonist Walt Weiskopf on Aja.
Is it possible to be too accomplished for your own damn good? There were certainly longueurs across their two hours onstage but the fat funk of Black Cow brought a change in dynamics, while Rikki Don’t Lose That Number ushered in a succession of their best loved songs, including the light pop funk breeze of Peg.
“Everybody likes a radio hit,” remarked Fagan. In Glasgow, there was also a special request for Deacon Blues, a shrewd intervention for a great song which inspired a certain band of local heroes.
By the end of the set, the group were truly “wigging out in Scotland” with the celebratory, liberating My Old School and a lithe, infectious Reelin’ in the Years.
There was also prestigious special guest support from British rhythm’n’blues veteran Steve Winwood, one of the most singular soulful voices of the 60s and 70s, who deserved all the love coming his way.
That voice was still an effective and affecting tool, particularly on Blind Faith’s yearning Can’t Find My Way Home, though it disappeared for long stretches while Winwood and his band indulged in the protracted mellow jam of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys before picking up the pace on the groovy, galloping Spencer Davis Group favourites Keep on Running and Gimme Some Lovin’.