Review + Photography by John McEvoy

An unusually warm Thursday night in Manchester saw the return of the of the one of the most musically influential bands of modern times return to the stage, in the shape of Steely Dan along with support from Steve Winwood who’s no stranger to producing influential music himself.

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I must confess that I was a little worried that Steely Dan may struggle to attract the no’s to the Arena, but this concern was clearly unfounded as the place (apart from the very top tier) was packed, and it was interesting to see such a wide age rage in attendance. Clearly good tunes are good tunes no matter how old or young you are!

First up it was Steve Winwood, still looking sprightly at 70, who given his musical career could quite easily have been the headliner himself. Look up ‘Spencer Davis Group’, Eric Clapton, ‘Traffic’, ‘Blind Faith’ and see for yourselves. As the band kicked in, Winwood himself wandered onto stage and it was a few seconds before the audience actually knew he was there! Sat behind his Hammond, he went straight into ‘I’m a Man’ and it was good to see that his distinctive vocals are still as strong as they’ve always been.

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From there it was as he says, a chronological trip through his back log which were all warmly received, and crowd favourites ‘Keep on Runnin’, and ‘Higher Love’ were real high points of his set.

Shortly before 9, it was time for Steely Dan, and it’s impossible to underestimate just how influential this band have been over the years to audiences and musicians alike. Formed originally back in 72, they have always been a group collective with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker being their founder members. Sadly Walter Becker passed away in Sept 17, and so it now falls to Donald Fagen to continue to fly the flag.

Their style is a curious fusion of rock, pop, and jazz, and has always been delivered by the highest calibre supporting musicians whether it be live or recorded. Tonight’s gig was no exception and the seven musicians and three backing singers took to the stage to launch straight into ‘Cubano Chant’. Donald Fagen had clearly taken notes from watching Winwood’s stage entrance, and in similar style he too appeared on stage to rapturous applause, and his first deed was to conduct the band to a close of their first tune.

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With that he took his place at the keyboard, (a photographers nightmare by the way!) and went straight into ‘Bodhisatva’ from ‘Countdown to Ecstasy’ album and the quality of the musicianship was on display for all to see. From there it was straight into ‘Hey Nineteen’, again delivered with consummate skill by all on stage.

Donald Fagen seemed genuinely pleased to be in Manchester tonight as part of his six date UK tour, and he was rewarded with a crowd who despite it being an all seater tonight, seemed only too willing to get up have a dance.

Crowd favourite ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ was a real highpoint of the whole set, and ‘Peg’ always a challenging tune to deliver vocally was expertly dealt with by the talented backing singers, who were a mini powerhouse in their own right tonight.

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The set just confirmed the depth and quality of Steely Dan’s back catalogue, and even though the new material has all but dried up, they have created tunes that will still be around for a long time to come, and based on the crowd tonight, new generations are continuing to discover their musical backlog.

By the time the band got to set closer, the sublime ‘My Old School’ the crowd were up and dancing in the aisles despite the best efforts of security, who frankly were flogging a dead horse there!

After the now obligatory two to three minute wait, the band came back on stage for the encore and first up, Donald Fagen thanked his long-time partner Walter Becker for all that he had done in creating these timeless classics. One of which was ‘Reelin’ in the ‘Years’ which showcased guitarist Jon Herington’s abilities to deliver that distinctive guitar sound which of course was Beckers trademark style. Closing with ‘A Man Ain’t Supposed To Cry’ ironically not a Steely Dan original, but actually written by Joe Williams in 1958 brought the curtain down on an outstanding performance by a man and band delivering sets of the highest quality.

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Tours by this band are fairly rare, so this reviewer was delighted to have finally seen a band who I have admired for more years than I care to mention!

Set list:
Cubano Chant
Bodhisatva
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Aja
Green Earrings
Black Cow
Time Out of Mind
Rikki
Kid Charlemagne
Dirty Work
Peg
Babylon Sisters
Keep That Same Old Feeling
Josie
My Old School
Reelin’ In The Years
A Man Ain’t Supposed To Cry

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