Steely Dan with special guest Steve Winwood performing at The Resorts World Arena Birmingham on Saturday 23rd February 2019

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Last night at the Resorts World Arena in Birmingham it was the opportunity for this packed crowd to see that age is no barrier to putting on a great show and with Steve Winwood and Steely Dan on the line up, they delivered set lists that contained loving jazz-rock riffs, instrumental fluidity and enticing vocals that made their music as current today as it was back in the day.

First up was self confessed good friend of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Steve Winwood who showed that at aged 70 he can still command a stage.  Having been a brief active member of The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith and Go to name but a few, this hometown boy has also had a lengthy solo career and has worked with nearly forty different artists throughout his career.

Playing an hour long set, he started proceedings with the 1967 Spencer Davis Group organ driven blues track, I’m A Man, which was followed up with Buddy Miles’ Them Changes.  There was a nod to his Blind Faith days with Can’t Find My Way Home and a dip into Traffic’s catalogue with The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys with its progressive rock theme.

Jackie Edwards Keep On Running went down a storm, as did Winwood’s Higher Love.  He finished his stupendous set with Gimme Some Lovin’ which many of this crowd thought was well worth the admission price alone by the look of the standing ovation he got.

Many things have happened to Steely Dan since their debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, was released in 1972, not least the passing of one of the founding members, Walter Becker in 2017.  But their music has not only survived, it has gained a new lease of life as their rich rhythms and infectious chords have been sampled by an army of artists from De La Soul, Kanye West, Ice Cube and All Saints.

With the mantle to continue being firmly taken up by the sprightly 71 year old Donald Fagen, he led the group on their first UK tour since Becker’s death, helped by a four strong brass section, the inspired drumming of Keith Carlock, a suited Jon Hetherington who stepped into the spotlight on guitar and the vocal interplay of the three Danettes backing singers.

With the band taking the stage to their version of Ray Bryant’s Cubano Chant, what was poignantly noticeable was the microphone left to stand empty in Becker’s memory.  But when Fagen came onto the stage to sit behind a keyboard adorned with a vintage picture of Duke Ellington and his orchestra, the group settled into an evocative and illuminating tour through Steely Dan’s vast back catalogue starting with the clattering keys and runaway riffs of Bodhisattva.

Following up with Hey Nineteen from their 1980 album Gaucho and Black Friday from Katy Lied, the group settled in as the songs contained meandering solos and cacophonous blasts of brass to remind this audience just how good they are.

With a set list containing many of their greatest hits such as Green Earrings, the ecstatically received Kid Charlemagne with its howling guitar solo, and the fabulous Dirty Work, it was the bands defining album, 1977’s Aja, which formed the backbone of the set list, from the thundering drum solo on its title track to the subliminal saxophone interlude and guitar solo on Peg.

With Steve Winwood joining them on stage to sing the lead vocals and play the organ on Pretzel Logic, this packed Arena were in Steely Dan heaven.  And by the time the band got to the jazzy Josie and My Old School the crowd were up on their feet dancing and provided perfect vocal support.

With the only disappointment being the inexplicable absence of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Fagen more than made up for it with the jubilant Reelin’ In The Years which sent the crowd home definitely wanting more.