Concert review of Steely Dan at Hard Rock Live in Orlando

Steely Dan

originally published 5/21/07


ORLANDO — The fans of Steely Dan gambled, and they won. Big time.

The band led by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen stopped by Hard Rock Live Saturday night as part of its Heavy Rollers Tour, and a sold-out audience welcomed it with open arms.

The stage didn’t have an elaborate set or special effects, just instruments. But with a band like Steely Dan, it’s all about the music.

The backing band — Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Jim Pugh on trombone, Walt Weiskopf on sax, Roger Rosenburg on baritone sax, Jeff Young on keyboards, Jon Herrington on electric guitar, Freddie Washington on bass, and Keith Carlock on drums — kicked things off with a Vegas-style swing tune.

Then a shades-wearing Fagen on lead vocals and Fender Rhodes piano; Becker on electric guitar; and the backup singers Cindy Mizelle and Carolyn Leonhart appeared on the stage, the audience giving them a standing ovation as they jumped into “Time Out of Mind.”

Steely Dan delved into their eclectic catalog of rock, jazz, and pop during their nearly 90-minute set, from “Jamie Runaway,” to “Gaslighting Abbie,” “Peg,” “Caves of Altamira,” “Josie,” and “Kid Charlamagne.”

It seemed the fans didn’t quite commit songs from their recent album, “Two Against Nature,” to memory. While they let out a big cheer within the first few notes of “Hey Nineteen,” as Charlock laid down the intricate odd time signature rhythm for “Two Against Nature,” they barely made a noise.

Steely Dan has been known for its attention to sonic detail in the studio, and its live presence was no exception.

The 12-piece band kept the songs tight, yet leaving enough room for solos from, on most occasions, Becker, Weiskopf, or Herrington. The audience gave the biggest applause after the band churned through “Aja,” featuring a duel between Weiskopf and Carlock. At times, the mix seemed to drown out Fagen’s piano work, but it’s a slight nit to pick.

Fagen did pass the lead vocals off on a couple of occasions — Becker took the lead vocals on “Monkey on Your Soul” while Mizelle and Leonhart took the lead for “Dirty Work.”

The Dan returned for an encore that featured “My Old School” and the uptempo jazzy gospel “Bodhisattva.” And as the show began, the backing band ended the evening.

Sam Yahel’s trio of organ, guitar and drums warmed the crowd up with a too-short 30 minute set. In one section of the standing-room-only area, they continued chatting away, which was a shame. Yahel created some tight funky grooves on the Hammond B-3 organ, including a version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.”

The trio was a perfect fit for the jazzy stylings of the headliner who like to take their chances with music and come up with winning songs every time.