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Hot August Night: Steely Dan turns up the heat in Grand Prairie

Posted 6:50pm on Wednesday, Sep. 04, 2013

With their current Mood Swings tour, Steely Dan has been playing two types of shows: those including their Aja album all the way through as well as some other songs and those with just a general mix from their four decades of musical history.

The audience got the latter Saturday night at Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie, and while Aja-holics might have been disappointed, it’s likely few others were, judging from the enthusiastic reception for the two-hour performance. Besides, most of Aja made it into the set anyway, so it was a win for just about everybody.

Things started off on a rather stiff note with Your Gold Teeth, but once the 11-piece band, including three backup singers, loosened up and locked into a sweetly soulful Aja, the night improved dramatically.

While most of the songs were played as the near-capacity audience remembers them, the Dan guys — keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker — revamped a couple of tracks, turning them into something almost unrecognizable. That was the case with a bluesier Black Friday and a funkier Show Biz Kids.

But even when they weren’t tinkering with our musical memories, they opened up well-known songs with an improvisatory spirit that turned Peg, Bodhisattva, Time Out of Mind, Reelin’ In the Years, Green Earrings and a positively electric My Old School into displays of a jazzy virtuosity without descending into excess. The criticism of them that they are overly intellectual, pristine perfectionists may hold some truth with some of their studio tracks, but it does not apply to their live shows. With the current lineup, much of that credit goes to guitarist Jon Herington (whose long résumé includes Boz Scaggs, Bette Midler and the Blue Nile), drummer Keith Carlock (who has also played with Sting) and a punchy four-piece horn section.

There were a couple of disappointments: No Deacon Blues for one. No Babylon Sisters. No Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number. And while it was notable that on this tour they’ve been playing Razor Boy, a song that they haven’t played much live, the vocals were turned over to the backing singers.

Fagen and Becker’s sardonic sense of humor was also on display occasionally between songs, though Becker’s philosophizing about Cuervo Gold went on too long.

These are small quibbles though. Overall, Saturday’s performance proved that Becker and Fagen — now in their 60s — are aging as well as many of the jazz players who have been their inspiration.

So it was cool that they had Chicago’s Deep Blue Organ Trio — a traditionalist group featuring guys who’ve played with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Glen Miller among many others — open with a half-hour set of three songs. It reminded the audience of the history that informs not only Steely Dan’s music but pop music overall.

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