Steely Dan concert was a gas.

After an opening instrumental foray by the eight-piece backing band, Fagen and Becker strolled on stage from separate sides to the strains of “Royal Scam,” which turned into an engaging, and not the least bit expected, opener. Sixty-year-old Fagen’s fine whine of a voice is thinner than in the past, but he still has the range and tonal control to handle anything from the Dan book. And the two female background singers made the choruses really pop.

If Steely Dan wants to play Tampa Bay once a year for the rest of my life, I’m there. But what makes these shows doubly worthwhile is the way the group mixes up the set list.

Last night, they passed over “Aja” — a bit of a disappointment in light of the Snider brothers’ history with the song — “Bodhisattva,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Do It Again,” “My Old School” and “Deacon Blues.” And it was OK. Instead, they performed “Babylon Sisters,” “New Frontier” (from Fagen’s Nightfly album), a reggae-fied version of “Everything You Did” (for my money, the best surprise of the night), a quick run at “Parker’s Band” and a funky remake of “Show Biz Kids.” Hey, it’s a trade-off.

Two members of the Dan band are vital to the live show. Drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herrington (introduced as the musical director) have an intuitive knack for honoring the Dan songs from the ’70s, while letting their individuality shine through. For instance, on the second guitar solo of “Kid Charlemagne,” Herrington knows he must start out with the descending Larry Carlton line from the recorded version — it’s as crucial to the song as the main melody; but afterward he launched into his own improvisation.

The 12-piece Steely Dan ensemble reached its pinnacle on “Black Friday,” where they locked into the spirited shuffle beat and clicked on all cylinders.

You know you’re digging a show when it’s 90 minutes in and you’re still hoping to hear three or four songs on your wish list. Steely Dan played two hours, and they didn’t complete my dance card, but they'll get no complaint from me. Maybe one of these years they’ll play “Gaucho” or “Rose Darling” or “Dr. Wu.” And maybe none of those songs — and a dozen or so others I could name — will ever make the set list. That's still OK by me. Just keep on touring, fellas.

In the late ’70s, when I was a struggling loser just out of college and my brother Kurt was still in high school, we would spend considerable time in the bedroom we shared in my parent’s St. Petersburg home.

He was a budding drummer; I was a future music critic (but didn’t know it at the time). We’d while away hours listening to music, with plenty of focus on Steely Dan. When Kurt finally mastered the Steve Gadd drum solo on the middle section of “Aja,” we rejoiced together.

So it was particularly gratifying that Kurt was in town with his family from Tennessee for a few days when Steely Dan played Ruth Eckerd Hall last night. Big brother/little brother hitting the Dan together. He’d never seen ’em. Doesn’t get much better than that.

I suppose Fagen, Becker and company could’ve disappointed, but it wasn’t likely. As it turns out, it was another entirely worthy Steely Dan show, the third in the Bay area in consecutive years, and the second straight at Ruth Eckerd (to what looked like a packed house).


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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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