Guitarist Walter Becker and singer-keyboardist Donald Fagen, the musical entity known as Steely Dan, brought a show packed with hits to the UNO Lakefront Arena on Saturday.
Becker and Fagen are on their “Jamalot Ever After” tour. While their show didn’t lack jamming, courtesy of their exceptionally skilled band, the duo’s songs were, of course, the night’s biggest stars.
Becker and Fagen, their eight-piece band and trio of backup singers exploited Steely Dan’s deep catalog beautifully, performing such vintage yet well-aged songs as “Aja,” “Josie,” “Peg” and “Hey Nineteen.”
Fagen sang lead for nearly every song. Becker usually stayed in the shadows, playing one of his many guitars — a role that a guy in the band, not a star, normally would take.
During “Aja,” Fagen stepped away from his keyboard to play a solo on the melodica, a small, portable keyboard that the player blows into through a mouthpiece. The song, though, became a bandwide showcase, with Becker and guitarist Jon Herington soloing and tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and drummer Keith Carlock showcasing their formidable chops.
Becker’s guitar lines introduced the 1981 hit “Hey Nineteen,” with its mix of humor and melancholy. During the song, he moved into the spotlight and delivered a stream-of-consciousness spiel that included a quote from New Orleans singer Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.”
“We got the band, we got the tunes, we got the wardrobe,” Becker said. He also suggested that Steely Dan, a group that released many classic albums, has seen its royalties from those recordings evaporate. That may explain why Becker, 64, and Fagen, 66, are on the 56-date “Jamalot Ever After” tour.
Becker’s spiel segued back into “Hey Nineteen,” following nostalgic ramblings about long-lost stashes of marijuana and a brand of tequila mentioned in the song’s lyrics, Cuervo Gold.
Another New Orleans reference appeared when Fagen performed “Pearl of the Quarter,” from 1973’s “Countdown to Ecstasy” album. The song is on the mellower side of Steely Dan’s repertory and characteristically bittersweet. “My baby’s the pearl of the Quarter,” Fagen sang. “Singing voulez vous, voulez vous, voulez vous.”
Becker’s only lead vocal came in the evening’s most rock ’n’ roll song, “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More” (from 1975’s “Katy Lied”).
“Bodhisattva,” from 1973’s “Countdown to Ecstasy” album, was the concert’s hottest song. Mostly instrumental, the jazz, rock and Asian music hybrid starred Herington’s swift guitar lines — solos that Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter played for the original recording.
After Fagen told the arena that it was great to be in the city that gave birth to jazz, he and the band hit the audience with the jazz- and funk-infused “Josie” and “Peg,” the pop gem “My Old School” and the group’s guitar-centered prog-rock classic, “Reelin’ in the Years.”
The two-hour performance ended with an encore of the Stevie Wonder-esque “Kid Charlemagne” and an instrumental rendition, played without Becker and Fagen by their great band, of the theme from the gangster TV series “The Untouchables.”