Published on September 16th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Review: Steely Dan’s Smooth Grooves in Full Effect at the PAC
Steely Dan, Deep Blue Organ Trio
North Charleston Performance Arts Center
Sept. 15, 2013
The North Charleston Performance Arts Center was packed from front to back with a variety of Steely Dan fans on Sunday evening. The most fanatical were eager to flip out to the geeky soul and smooth funk of the veteran troupe’s big hits and deep cuts.
Led by lead singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist/singer Walter Becker, the jazzy ensemble steered their current road trip — the “Mood Swings: 8 Miles To Pancake Day Tour” — the town, well rehearsed, casually dressed, and in fine spirits.
One of the first pleasant surprises of the night came with an unexpected opening performance by Chicago-based jazz act Deep Blue Organ Trio (regulars at the Windy City’s old Green Mill lounge). With Chris Foreman on the Hammond B-3 organ, Bobby Broom on electric guitar, and Greg Rockingham on drums, the well-seasoned trio performed a brief, funky, upbeat set comprised of a few numbers from their recent Stevie Wonder tribute album Wonderful! (an Origin Records release), an ad-lib organ version of “Charleston,” and a fast-tempo rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Around 8:40 p.m., Fagen and Becker’s sizable backing ensemble strolled on stage and tore into a a snappy, upbeat Gerry Mulligan tune titled “Blueport.” It was a tight, powerful, sophisticated opening to what would turn out to be a 20-song, two-hour set.
The rhythm section featured Keith Carlock on drums, Freddie Washington on electric bass, Jim Beard on keys, and Jon Herington on electric guitar. On stage right, a top-notch four-piece horn section comprised of Jim Pugh (trombone), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Walt Weisskopf (tenor sax), and Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax) blasted away.
Fagan strolled on stage with a big pair of shades and a wide grin and took his place at his keyboards near center stage. The back kicked off with a grooving’ version of “Your Gold Teeth.” Becker kind of held back while Herington handled the fancy guitar riffs and chords.
Many in the crowd hollered wildly as they went into the open phrases of “Aja” the lengthy, complexly arranged title track of the 1977 album. Three backing vocalists — LaTanya Hall, Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery, and Catherine Russell (the “Borderline Brats,” as Fagen called them) harmonized beautifully. Carlock’s Steve Gadd-esque mini solos dazzled the audience and pushed the energy level to new heights.
Fagen switched between his keys and his melodica as the band bounced through on a number of classic hits during the heart of the set, including the slow-rolling “Black Cow” and “Hey Nineteen” (from Aja), the funky-peppery “Kid Charlemagne” (from 1976’s The Royal Scam), and the upbeat “Bodhisattva” (from 1973’s Countdown to Ecstasy). Each horn player enjoyed several moments of soloing in the spotlights (literally). Fan faves “Josie” and “Peg” (both from Aja) and “Reelin’ in the Years (from 1973’s Can’t Buy a Thrill) closed things out.
Mixed impeccably through the PA, the band played brilliantly with strong chemistry and polished style. Fagen sang with jazz-cat style and soul. Becker fiddled around calmly like a stoner guitar wiz. All together, it was one of the strongest and smoothest classic rock/funk concerts of the year so far.
All photos by Jessica Mickey.
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