St.Louis Post-Dispatch: Daniel Durchholz: 23rd July 2015
“St. Louis is not entirely, utterly and completely the home of the blues,” Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker opined about 20 minutes into the band’s performance Wednesday night at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre.
“But it sure is a tall pole on a high hill on a windy day on the way there, and that’s good enough for me.”
Steely Dan, meanwhile, which also includes keyboardist/vocalist Donald Fagen, Becker’s musical partner of nearly 50 years, plus a crack 11-piece backing band, is not so much a current act, having released no new material since 2003’s “Everything Must Go,” one of just two albums to surface following a 20-year recording hiatus.
But it’s good enough for Dan fans, many of whom have returned time and again to see the band since it resumed touring in 1993.
Any why not? However much the group relies on past glories and set lists similar to previous tours, featuring generous helpings of greatest hits and just enough deep cuts to keep things interesting, Steely Dan carries off the old-wine-in-new-skins act better than most. The band’s two-hour show boasted stellar musicianship, indelible grooves and a catchy tunefulness that belies the subtle complexities of some of pop music’s most sardonic and subversive material.
Though the two principals were the evening’s main focus — Fagen throwing off a Ray Charles vibe as he wore shades, sang and grooved behind his keyboard, and Becker playing perhaps more lead guitar than on past tours and acting as the show’s ebullient emcee — they were not afraid to share the spotlight.
Early in the show, the pair turned the stage over to saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and drummer Keith Carlock, who fired off the whiplash instrumental breaks on “Aja.”
The trio of backup singers — Paulette McWilliams, Cindy Mizelle and Carolyn Leonhart — weren’t just foils for Fagen’s vocals. They often sang along with him, boosting his range, which has lessened over time. The trio also took the lead outright on “Razor Boy” and the Joe Tex chestnut “I Want To (Do Everything for You).”
Every member of the band was featured at one time or another during the show. But it was guitarist (and the band’s musical director) Jon Herington who shone the brightest, trading hot licks with Becker on an impossibly fast “Bodhisattva” and firing up one jaw-dropping solo after another as the show built to a climax with “Peg,” “My Old School” and “Reelin’ in the Years.”
The set’s only misstep was “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More,” featuring an unwieldy vocal by Becker. But that was easy enough to overlook in the midst of an evening of tight ensemble playing, breakout solo spots, and nostalgia not merely reheated, but positively nuked.
Elvis Costello, who opened the show, played a fine solo concert of deep-catalog fare at the Pageant earlier this year. For St. Louis fans who survived the 15-year drought of Costello appearances in the ’80s and ’90s, the chance to see him twice in one year seems positively mind-bending.
This time he was backed by his longtime band the Imposters, and his hourlong set was perhaps designed as a refresher course for more casual fans. It was full of crowd-pleasing hits from his early years, including “Watching the Detectives,” “Alison” and “What’s So Funny (’bout Peace Love and Understanding).”
An amphitheater is not the ideal place to offer lyrically dexterous fare like the more recent “Jimmie Standing in the Rain,” but Costello was game to try. He got plenty of reaction from the crowd thanks to bravura vocal performances on “Flutter & Wow,” “Veronica” and “Everyday I Write the Book.” He also let the characteristically economical Imposters stretch out and jam a bit on “One Bell Ringing.”