Steely Dan’s two-hour show at Starlight Theater on Saturday night was its third in Kansas City in three years, its second in less than 11 months. By all measures, it was as good as the two others. Or better.
Backed by an 11-piece ensemble that included a four-man horn section and three backup singers, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker took a crowd of more than 5,000 on a grand tour of a music catalog that goes back to the early 1970s and comprises nine studio albums.
After the band serenaded the crowd with the instrumental “Cubano Chant,” Fagen and Becker took the stage and lit the fuse on a setlist that included 20 songs and was packed with favorites and hits. They started with “Black Cow,” one of four they played from “Aja,” Steely Dan’s most popular and successful album, now nearly 37 years old.
For most of the night, Fagen was the center of attention. Becker was content to stand off to the side, next to guitar wiz Jon Herington, issuing some stellar leads of his own. Twice he delivered wry, comic monologues, including one in the middle of “Hey Nineteen,” from the “Gaucho” album.
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Fagen, who left his keyboard post a few times to play melodica, was in steady vocal form all night, accommodating the changes time has imparted on his voice. He relinquished lead once, to his background singers, during “Dirty Work,” which included a sultry trumpet solo. For the most part, songs were delivered with some improvisation but remained close to their recorded versions. “Do It Again,” for example, took on a big-band vibe and was embellished by a brief but dynamic drum flourish from Keith Carlock. “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More” swung to a groove that was funkier than the original. (Becker took lead vocals on that one.)
On a night when the sound was as clean as the weather was idyllic, the crowd generously delivered applause and ovations to the world-class musicians on stage, including the skronky alto-sax solo during “Two Against Nature” and especially after Herington’s bristling lead during “Bodhisattva.”
Like the two previous shows, the hits ignited the loudest responses. There was plenty of singing and dancing during “Black Friday,” “Do It Again,” “Josie” and “Peg.” But no song got a louder and more visceral response than “My Old School.” Even Fagen appeared to get swept away in the enthusiasm.
They ended the set with “Reelin’ in the Years,” igniting another uproar, then returned for “Kid Charlamagne.” As the band vamped through the theme to “The Untouchables,” Fagen and Becker waved goodbye to a sea of appreciative fans for the third time in three years. And this time was just as satisfying and charming as the two others.
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Cubano Chant; Black Cow; Aja; Hey Nineteen; Rikki Don’t Lost That Number; Black Friday; Show Biz Kids; Time Out of Mind; Two Against Nature; Dirty Work; Bodhisattva; Do It Again; Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More; Babylon Sisters; I Want To (Do Everything For You); Josie; Peg; My Old School; Reelin’ In The Years. Encore: Kid Charlemagne; Untouchables Theme.