Steely Dan @ Resort Worlds Arena, 23 February 2019

The newly renamed (again) NEC hosts the legendary Steely Dan this evening, one of a handful of UK shows. I was unsure of demand for this show, given the eye-watering ticket prices, but the queue to get into the venue suggests it’s close to sell-out. Of course, the security screening adds to the delays and to the frustrations of some disgruntled folks in the queue.

When a group of musician’s amble onto the stage most are unaware this is actually the band supporting Steve Winwood, the house lights still in full glare as a fella sits behind an organ, and only when he starts playing does the majority realise this is actually Winwood himself. It’s a good couple of minutes before the lights dim, and you can still see hoards trying to find their seat (a task some struggle with in bright light) and so it’s a shame throughout his stunning hour set that people are constantly coming in, flashing their mobile phone lights and shouting to those already seated “what seat number are you in”.

Opening with ‘I’m a Man’ and leading us through a career back-catalogue, Winwood is in fabulous voice, and it’s all too easy to forget just what a career he has had and his influence. “It’s good to be back in the place of my birth, even though I know live in the West Country, my friends say once a Brummie, always a Brummie”. His backing band are excellent, but it is Winwood who shines, that distinctive voice is unchanged, and his Hammond organ playing is only surpassed when he throws a guitar on, blimey, can he play.

It’s been some time since he played live, and to be fair he’d likely fill this venue on his own. Standout songs are the expected favourites, ‘Keep On Running’, ‘Higher Love’, and set closer ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, during which I’m afraid to say my mind did imagine Jake and Elwood Blues running up and down the stage. It was a brilliant set.

The main act tonight of course is Steely Dan, often, can I suggest cruelly, referred to as a musician’s band, as the original duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker made albums with the finest array of musicians at the time. Their studio albums were accomplished, polished and perfect. Within the first couple of minutes tonight it’s clear that live is no different. Opening with the instrumental ‘Cubano Chant’ Fagen, like Winwood, ambles from the side of the stage, to conduct the final bars of the song. He then takes his seat centre-stage behind his keyboard. To the side a microphone stand, largely unused during the show, where the late Becker would’ve stood. These days it’s just Fagen carrying the mantle, but the musician’s he has around him are world-class. A four-piece brass section, who each come forward to do a seamless solo in songs, the sound is every bit as good as the studio recordings.

‘Bodhisattva’ is the first chance we get to hear that unmistakable voice, and it is just glorious. There is at one point an optimistic shout for ‘Nightfly’, but there’s no chance of any songs from the Fagen solo catalogue, in fact there’s a few key Steely Dan songs missing tonight, in a two-hour set which uses the Aja album as it’s backbone.

It’s a show based on the music alone . There are few fancy lights, no visuals against the back curtain, and no large screens, meaning those at the back can see little of the figures on stage. It’s also a point to note there are no photographers in the pit at the front of the stage. Maybe the septuagenarian is getting shy or maybe he doesn’t want to see camera lenses pointed at him?

Halfway through the set Winwood is called back out, his Hammond brought out for a duet of ‘Pretzel Logic’, it’s quite something to see these two legends on stage side by side. Fagen jokes “when Steve had his big career I was at school” and the cheeky mood continues as the songs concludes when he says of the Hammond “get that thing outta here”.

The three backing vocalists, the Danettes, take lead vocal on ‘Dirty Work’, and it’s really quite beautiful. Fagen sat at the front, rocking as he plays his keyboard, relishing and loving the song as much as the audience are.

The audience, largely of a certain vintage , finally get to their feet during ‘My Old School’ and rather than the corny encore, it’s refreshing to hear Fagen say “we usually go off here, you clap for a couple of minutes and we come back but we’re gonna go straight on if that’s okay” and then we get ‘Reelin in the Years’, one of their biggest hits.

Fagen then takes a bow and leaves the band to finish another instrumental ‘A Man ain’t Supposed To Cry’ but to be honest as Fagen leaves the stage so do most of the audience, whom I suspect either have a train to catch or an hour’s queue on the car park.

There are obvious songs missing, ‘Rikki’ and ‘Do it again’ and not one Fagen solo song, but the influence of Steely Dan runs deep in music. A lot of folks may be ignorant to them, in which case suggest they listen to another set highlight ‘Peg’, famously sampled by De La Soul. There are others, and it’s hard to underestimate the influence Steely Dan have had on music of all genres. It’s rare they play live, usually doing a small residency at some flash venue in America, but tonight they showed just why they have been hugely influential, with a masterclass in musicianship. We were blessed.


Setlist: Steve Winwood

I’m a Man

Them Changes

Can’t Find My Way Home

Had to Cry Today

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

Keep on Running

Higher Love

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Gimme Some Lovin


Setlist: Steely Dan

Cubano Chant


Hey Nineteen

Black Friday


Green Earrings

Black Cow

Time Out of Mind

Pretzel Logic

Kid Charlemagne

Dirty Work


Home at Last

Keep That Same Old Feeling


My Old School

Reelin in the Years

A Man ain’t Supposed to Cry


Reviewer: Glenn Raybone

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