Though Steely Dan is known for following their own complex, syncopated jazz-pop beat, the band has jumped on the "in its entirety" trend spending two nights at The University of Akron's E.J Thomas hall performing Aja on Monday night.
Steely Dan principals Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have assembled a superior 11 piece band including three backup singes and a horn section that can play anything out of the band's catalog with near mechanical precision but they didn't let the fancy chords and time changes get in the way of the good grooves found on Aja.
As singer/songwriter Donald Fagen said, going to see a band perform a familiar album in its entirety creates a different artist/audience relationship for that portion of the evening.
Since the audience presumably knows what's coming next, the surprise isn't in the song selection as much as how they are played and whether they can tickle the audiences music/nostalgia bones in all the right places.
Following a casual entrance and a low key version of Oliver Nelson's Teenie's Blues that gave the band the first of many chances to display their chops, one of the backup singers walked to a spotlit phonograph placed at the front of the stage and put a needle on a record signaling the beginning of the album with the funky kiss-off Black Cow..
What followed was a groovy reproduction of the seven track album with the band sticking more or less to the album's original arrangements with a few added solos in place of song fades. Fagen wearing a dark sport coat and darker sunglasses that when coupled with his herky-jerky movements at the Fender Rhodes Piano make him look like Ray Charles' long lost brother, has lost a bit of the top end of his vocal range but overall sounded good.
The highlights of the Aja set included drummer Keith Carlock's swirling fills that pushed the rhythmically complex middle section of the title track, Walt Weiskopf fluid tenor sax improvisations on Deacon Blues, a funky Josie with Becker spinning one of his better staccato, single-note guitar solos of the evening and and his partner Fagen whipping out a chunky piano solo for the funky Josie.
"That's the Aja album, pretty much" Fagen after the closing notes of Josie and a standing ovation from the near sell-out crowd.
The rest of the set was mix of hits and fan favorites including a jamming Bodhisattva with great guitar work from Becker and longtime guitarist Jon Herington, Hey 19, A take on Black Friday that highlighted the soing's underlying blues shuffle more than the propulsion of the recorded version. The "chorus" split the lead vocals on the ballad Dirty Work and Becker took the microphone for Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More.
The band also gave a preview for those returning for Tuesday's concert of The Royal Scam with a version of Kid Charlemagne, that had many in the mostly over 40 crowd wiggling at their seats while singing "Is there gas in the car?"
and Don't Take Me Alive.
Home at Last
I Got the News
Daddy Donât Live in that New York City No More
Show Biz Kids
Love Is like an Itching in My Heart/BandIntros
Donât Take Me Alive
My Old School