Jul 18, 2016
Steely Dan's backing musicians steal the show at BMO Harris Pavilion: @pietlevy from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on @theRonnieRe
There was no need for Steely Dan to further hype its BMO Harris Pavilion show Saturday night.
It did after all earn a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, thanks partially to its signature jazz rock arrangements. And the amphitheater on the Summerfestgrounds — which seats 5,000, and can accommodate a few thousand more standing in the back — was near capacity.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel music writer Piet Levy shares photos and his thoughts from Steely Dan's show at the BMO Harris Pavilion on July 16, 2016.
But Steely Dan's Walter Becker just couldn't help himself.
"It's just the finest band we've ever had," Becker boasted early on, in the middle of "Hey Nineteen."
"You've got yourself a ring-a-ding-ding party, ding-a-ding-ding party, ring-a-ding-ding," he continued as part of an offbeat, four-minute rant. "All night folks, we're going to hit those grooves, hit them hard, play those hits, you love these hits, you know you do. We're going to go on down that setlist, it's going to be pow, ba-bow, pow, boom, ring-a-ding-ding-ding, 'Oh, I love that one.'"
He also promised that after the show, couples would retreat to their "sanctum sanctorum of love, and the rest is history."
I have no idea if that last premonition came to be — and folks, I don't want to know.
But Becker was right about one thing — the backing band was terrific.
In fact, Becker and Steely Dan co-captain Donald Fagen essentially let the 11 supporting musicians steal the two-hour show.
Not that they didn't showcase their bona fides. Fagen effortlessly played a complex keyboard intro leading into "Josie." Becker on guitar brought twisted, nimble blues chops to "Pretzel Logic;" and during "Reelin' in the Years," his tight, high-pitched guitar riffs almost sounded like a psychedelic piccolo.
But during a band roll call, after Becker introduced Fagen with a thousand superlatives (and called him a gourmet chef to boot), white lights flooded the crowd, which appropriately went wild — but it was drummer Keith Carlock and trumpet player Michael Leonhart who took charge.
Walt Weiskopf was the star of sprawling set highlight "Aja" on sultry saxophone. Becker relinquished lead guitar to Jon Herington for most of Saturday's 17 songs. Fagen didn't even sing during "Dirty Work," letting the "Danettes" — backing vocalists La Tanya Hall, Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle — take the lead.
There was a time in the '70s when Steely Dan was a studio-only band, its perfectionist recording tendencies finding new fans even during a 12-year hiatus. Now, it's a touring-only band — there hasn't been a new album since 2003 — and Becker and Fagen are content to take a creative back seat.
But fans Saturday were also content to belt out the distinctively quirky lyrics, to dance in the aisles and to be dazzled by fine musicianship — even if the two men who started it all weren't doing much dazzling.
Fagen was right to call opener Steve Winwood "intimidating." That's what happens when you have another Rock and Roll Hall of Famer on the bill.
The hourlong set spanned Winwood's eclectic and accomplished career, from "Gimme Some Lovin'" (the Spencer Davis Group); to "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" (Traffic); to "Can't Find My Way Home" (Blind Faith, his short-lived supergroup with Eric Clapton); to "Higher Love," from his solo career. The four-piece backing band cast away the latter's '80s gloss in favor of funky jazz rock, without sacrificing any energy.
And while guitarist Jose Neto often figuratively and literally commanded the spotlight — particularly with '70s funk guitar washes for the Buddy Miles cover "Them Changes" — Winwood on guitar matched his skills, with arena grandeur, and a touch of Texas roadhouse spice, during Traffic's "Mr. Fantasy." And Winwood's voice for "Lovin'" was just as sweet and soulful Saturday as on that 1966 recording.
Find out about the week's must-see shows, concert tickets and more in the newsletter "Piet Levy's Music Picks." Subscribe at jsonline.com/newsletters.
Piet talks about concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9).
■The four-year-old BMO Harris Pavilion has more concert action than usual this summer, but I'm concerned some people won't come back. The lines to get in were massive, wrapping deep around the block, and taking 30 to 40 minutes to get in. No doubt many people missed a lot, and possibly all, of Winwood's set. The reason for the ridiculous delays: just four metal detectors stationed at the gate. Inexcusable.
■During Winwood's "Higher Love," you could see the tip of a sailboat through the mesh behind the stage swaying perfectly to the music.
■After Winwood ended, I had to wait 15 minutes to use the restroom. Ladies, on the other hand, had no wait at all. "I've never seen this in 60 years of my life!" one woman screamed, raising her arms in giddy jubilation.
1. "Black Cow"
3. "Hey Nineteen"
4. "Black Friday"
5. "Show Biz Kids"
6. "Kid Charlemagne"
7. "Time Out of Mind"
8. "Dirty Work"
10. "Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More"
11. "Babylon Sisters"
12. "I Want To (Do Everything For You)" (Joe Tex cover)
15. "My Old School"
16. "Reelin' in the Years"
17. "Pretzel Logic"