Steely Dan may be “reelin’ in the years” but its songs and sound are as timeless as ever. The legendary jazz/rock group’s sharp and energetic performance to a spirited Santa Barbara Bowl audience on Tuesday night proved that great songwriting, complex yet funky arrangements, and skilled musicians whose passion is infectious never go out of style.
The band opened with hits “Black Cow” and “Aja,” which featured a dynamic drum solo from percussive powerhouse Keith Carlock. The crowd-pleasing first half continued with “Hey Nineteen,” “Do It Again,” and “Peg” — all flawlessly locked in with the band’s on-point groove. The group was full of love for its fans and held nothing back, insisting that it would play all the favorites, nearly making good on that promise if only “Deacon Blues” had been included in the lineup.
The light show was minimal, but it did not need to be anything more. The musicianship dazzled on its own. Donald Fagen’s strong vocals and keyboard playing anchored the band while Jon Herington’s guitar never ceased to inspire and rejuvenate songs with a new energy. His mesmerizing solos were especially impressive in the effervescent “My Old School” in which the horn section also played a starring role. Three soulful backup singers passionately provided the pizzazz and pipes to perfectly complement the dynamic instrumentation.
As the band played “Reelin’ in the Years,” the crowd rose in waves, swaying and bopping to an undeniable classic. Although the band is entirely composed of New Yorkers, save for rock-solid bass player Freddie Washington, its feel-good vibes, upbeat energy, and gorgeous sound, which draped the balmy Santa Barbara Riviera in sonic goodness, felt distinctly Californian.