Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Steely Dan dubbed their latest tour – which came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 31 after travelling across North America for much of the summer – the “Jamalot Ever After Tour.” No real subtlety there – assuming that by “Jamalot” they meant their big band of wizard-proficient musicians and vocalists would stretch way out on jazzified, solo-filled versions of their songs, which were culled primarily from the group’s ‘70s studio recording heyday.
But “jam” also implies an element of spontaneity and, no, this was a carefully scripted affair, based on a fairly predictable formula and set list honed over the group’s last several tours – heavy on the (admittedly brilliant) tunes from the multi-platinum Aja (“Black Cow,” “Aja,” “Josie,” “Peg”) and FM staples like “Hey Nineteen,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” “My Old School” and “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number.”
Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen (keyboards and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar) now embrace touring in a way they never did in their more studio-focused early days, but given their reputation as control freaks in love with extreme precision and technical proficiency, it’s no real surprise that they would approach their live show the way they do now – with a highly polished band of pros who showcase their jazz-pop prowess by taking solos throughout the night, lit under a rotating spotlight.
Concert-goers were still making their way to their seats as the 11-piece backing band – minus Fagen and Becker – opened with the Latin-flavored instrumental cover of Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant.” Then the two somewhat curmudgeonly looking lead guys arrived – Fagen taking his hunched seat behind the keyboard for “Black Cow” and “Aja,” the latter song featuring a Fagen keytar solo, a sax solo by Walt Weiskopf and a drum solo by Keith Carlock.