BY CRAIG OUTHIER
The definitive Phoenix-area Steely Dan show is, and always will be, the duo's windswept performance at Cricket Pavilion in 2006. Not only did that show reunite the Dan with Michael McDonald, the blow-dried soul daddy whose paean to coke and Cuervo on "Hey Nineteen" remains the pimpest bit of backup vocalizing ever recorded, but what could have been a hot-as-balls outdoor concert in July was magically leavened by a gutsy little sirocco that blew in the from the north and cooled the night down by at least 10 degrees.
Truly, the good Lord smiled on the Dan that day.
I'm convinced that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (and their usual deluxe suite of jazz musicians) will never stage a more God-kissed concert in their lifetimes. Still, Dan junkie that am, I keep going; most recently, to their lackluster 2008 concert at the Dodge Theatre, and to Tuesday night's "Rent Party" show, also at the staid Dodge.
It turned out to be one of the band's freshest, most lively performances since returning to touring nine years ago. No siroccos, no Michael McDonald, but Fagen and Becker still made the night a wonderful thing.
It helped that the duo is trying something new on their current "Rent Party" tour, performing one of their classic albums, in its entirety, during each show (fellow reformees The Pixies, currently touring in Europe, are doing the same thing with Come On Pilgrim). Tuesday night at the Dodge, that album was Aja (1977), a seven-song masterpiece of jazz-rock compression and the best-selling disc in the Dan canon. Given my druthers, I would have preferred the more groove-oriented, discretely sinister Gaucho (1980), but since the other album the band is performing on this leg of the tour is The Royal Scam (1976), one of their lesser long-plays, I'm not complaining.
Besides, the Aja performance afforded the crowd numerous Steely delights: a brilliant, expansive rendition of the title track, featuring not one, but two, wicked-awesome drum solos; an appropriately mellow interpretation of the dusky classic "Deacon Blues"; and a welcome dusting-off of the album's closing track, "Josie." Reversing the band's penchant for live reworking in recent years, it was all essentially faithful to the studio "Aja" - which means poor Becker, the Andrew Ridgely of 70s adult contemporary, didn't have much to do for a good portion of the show while his ivory-tickling meal-ticket, Fagen, captivated the audience. Honestly, I forgot Becker was on stage until he redeemed himself with a nifty guitar solo on "Home at Last."
Obviously, seven songs would make for a pretty paltry concert, so at the conclusion of "Josie," the band launched into a sweeping, 13-song salute to their best-known work, including "Babylon Sisters," "Hey Nineteen" and that unlikeliest of Rock Band cuts, "Bohdisattva." By the time Mssrs. Fagen and Becker finished an all too-rare rendition of the outlaw b-side "Don't Take Me Alive," some of the mostly middle-age Dodge audience were actually standing up in their seats, until the trend reached a glorious tipping point and EVERYBODY was standing for the final encore, "Reelin' in the Years." People actually standing at an indoor Dan concert? Hey, it wasn't a heavenly wind, but it'll do.
Last Night: Steely Dan at the Dodge Theatre.
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Better Than: Last year's show at the same venue; also better than the tattered remnants of The Doobie Brothers at Casino Arizona.
Personal Bias: Donned 70s threads and drove to Vegas to see the band during their Two Against Nature Tour nine years ago.
Random Detail: Bless the small pod of Dan devotees on the east side of the theater who insisted on standing and dancing to "Old School," thereby shaming the rest of us out of our seats.
Further Listening: It's a well-documented fact that kids don't "get" the Dan; you have to reach your late 20s, with some hard living behind you, before the band's themes of middle-class ennui and urban melancholy really come into focus.