It wasn’t until returning to the stage for an encore of “Reelin’ in the Years” that Donald Fagen acknowledged the absence of Steely Dan’s other half. “I’d like to thank my long-time partner Walter Becker for helping me write some pretty cool songs,” he said. Then, in the darkly humorous tone that both Becker and he embraced, Fagen added, “Unfortunately, Walter couldn’t be with us here tonight.”
For a band that didn’t consider itself a band and gave up performing live at the height of its popularity in search of perfection in the studio, Steely Dan has turned out to the be one of the most reliable touring acts of the past decade. Settling in for multi-show residencies that focus on entire albums and greatest hits has been part of their touring success, and this year’s nine-night run at New York’s Beacon Theatre continues the tradition in the post-Walter Becker world.
Wednesday night’s featured album was Countdown to Ecstasy, the Dan’s 1973 follow-up to the surprising success of their 1972 debut, Can’t Buy a Thrill. Sales expectations were initially high for Countdown, and so many copies were produced that discounted cutouts were available in record bins for most of the ‘70s. It was a fine effort that demonstrated a step forward from their pop-infused debut, but the album failed to produce the monster radio hits that the era demanded. Fortunately, Countdown has aged well, featuring familiar favorites such as “Bodhisattva” and “My Old School” alongside once-lesser tracks like “Pearl of the Quarter”, “The Boston Rag”, and “King of the World”, which have since emerged as standouts.
Fagen and Becker once shuttled studio players in and out for specific riffs, but the current lineup of stellar musicians has remained steady for many years. Guitarist Jon Herrington and drummer Keith Carlock are joined by a four-piece horn section, three backup singers (including Catherine Russell, who’s a noted jazz singer in her own right), Jim Beard on keys and Freddie Washington on bass. Though not exactly Walter Becker’s replacement, the only new member of the band is Connor Kennedy, a superb young guitarist whom Fagen initially recruited for his Nightflyers band.
In addition to the complete Countdown to Ecstasy, Wednesday’s show featured multiple selections from Aja, including “Black Cow”, “Josie”, “Peg”, and the title track. “Kid Charlemagne” from The Royal Scam and “Hey Nineteen” from Gaucho rounded out the evening.
You can check out a gallery of photos from the performance below via photographer Lou Montesano.