Last night, Steely Dan’s 23-date U.S. tour closed out in style at the Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. As is often the case, though, Florida’s bipolar weather nearly ruined everything at just the wrong time.
The legendary pop outfit brought along a very special guest in Elvis Costello and his band, the Imposters. Costello opened for Steely Dan, but in truth, this was a double-headliner treat for music fans. Although it took some time to fill both the seats and the lawn, it wasn’t long before the entire amphitheater was bulging with baby-boomer dance fiends (and even some of their kids.)
Costello, clad in a monochrome gangster outfit suitable for either a foggy night out in his native London or a cigar bar in Miami, barreled through his greatest hits, including spirited versions of “Oliver’s Army,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “Everyday I Write the Book.” Every so often, Costello dug deep into his catalog, sending waves of shimmying, rousing rock through the venue. A master lyricist and guitar pop poet, Costello bid the crowd adieu with his double-entrendre-laden hit “Pump It Up” and his famous cover of Nick Lowe’s song “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”
Near the end of Costello’s set, a menacing thunderstorm crept up from behind the palm trees. The massive and ominous system threatened to wreck the evening, just as Steely Dan’s roadies were setting up. Thankfully, after a few weak drizzles, the show went on as the clouds whimpered away while Steely Dan triumphantly did not.
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The dynamic songwriting duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen brought to life their signature feel-good sound with the help of a small musical army. It was a sophisticated blend of jazz, traditional pop, blues, and R&B buoyed by melodic hooks and complex harmonies.
Assisting them to establish their '70s groove was a plethora of stellar musicians. Between the sax solos, the horn solos, the trumpet solos, the drum breakdowns, and the three-part harmonies — courtesy of a trio of lovely backup singers — Steely Dan ensured that every player onstage was both literally and figuratively in the spotlight.
As they’re known to do in their concerts, Becker and Fagen allowed the music to explore the space, extending four- or five-minute studio tracks into freewheeling jam-band adventures. Caring only about providing a breezy, fun experience for their fans, they melted hearts and moved butts with songs like “Show Biz Kids” and “Peg.”
Perhaps the two biggest highlights came near the finale, when they ended the “regular” show with their bluesy 1973 hit “Reelin in the Years” and followed it up with the jazz-fusion classic "Kid Charlemagne." Each song must have transported many at Perfect Vodka back in time to those hazy days of long happy trips of the chemical variety. However, thanks to solid performances by Elvis Costello and Steely Dan, two artists who have never lost their cool, those same fans went home with a new set of blissful memories.