Ocregister: Peter Larsen: 14th July 2015. Photo by Drew A Kelley.
Let’s hear it for the cool comforts of the familiar: Steely Dan strolled onstage at the Hollywood Bowl just after dark on Monday and played almost exactly the songs that you’d guess that they’d pick, the biggest hits from their biggest albums, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and the musicians they’ve gathered for the road as tight and polished as the aces they are.
It’s all good – terrific, actually – and the 18 songs they scattered over two hours fully satisfied the mostly full house, as did an hourlong set from Elvis Costello & the Imposters.
But let’s also make a wish for the next time the Dan comes to town, that they mix it up a little, play a few deeper cuts, celebrate the less familiar, make that guy shouting for “Dr. Wu” a happy fella.
It’s difficult, of course, when you have so many songs that people want to hear, and given the perfectionist tendencies of Messrs. Becker and Fagen, they’re the least inclined to call an audible midway through the show. And then too, it’s not like the set has a bum note or bad song in it (though Becker’s amusing if predictable rant-a-logue during “Hey Nineteen” could be half as long and allow for another entire number).
After a jazz instrumental by the eight players in the band to get the crowd settled, Fagen and Becker and the trio of backup vocalists they call the Danettes walked onstage to start the night with “Black Cow,” a jazzy vibe from 1977’s “Aja,” the biggest seller in their catalog. The title track followed, a noir romance lyric over complex time changes and melodies that left room for the band to stretch out and solo, lead guitarist Jon Herington and drummer Keith Carlock shining brightest in their turns in the spotlight.
Thirty minutes in, they’d played three songs, thanks to the drawn-out instrumentals and Mr. Chatty during “Hey Nineteen,” but the pace soon quickened with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” making a somewhat less-common appearance in the set, and “Show Biz Kids.”
The Danettes took over lead vocals for “Dirty Work,” originally sung by former member David Palmer, but Fagen was back on the mic for a propulsive burn through “Bodhisattva” that ended with him bouncing up and down on his piano stool, proclaiming, “What a night! I’m buggin’ out!”
The final run of songs clustered some of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night. “Josie” and “Peg” had the crowd up and dancing, singing along, the first a slower groove accented by the four horn players in the band and Becker’s soloing, the latter, a faster syncopated romp that featured Harrington to nice affect.
“My Old School” and “Reelin’ in the Years” closed the main set, both of them earning cheers and hollers as the opening notes, both perfectly played, perfectly expected, perfectly satisfying, followed after a brief break by an encore of “Kid Charlemagne.”
Elvis Costello & the Imposters came on at dusk and ran through 13 songs in precisely one hour, the set focused solidly on his best-known material.
“Watching The Detectives” had its familiar menacing slink, while “Accidents Will Happen” was its usual delight. “We couldn’t come here without playing a little California music for you!” Costello said by way of introducing “The Other Side of Summer,” one of the few surprises in the set (another arriving in the form of “Clubland”).
The Imposters – keyboard player Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas from Costello’s original band, the Attractions, and bass player Davey Faragher – were as solid as you’d expect.
“Alison,” of course, got a huge response, while “Everyday I Write The Book” got roughed up and funkified a bit from its recorded version. A skittering, nervous rush through “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea” and a rapid stomp through “Pump It Up” had more of the crowd on their feet, with “(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in its customary place to finish out Costello’s time onstage.