We’ll forgive Steely Dan’s Walter Becker for referring to the mayor of Las Vegas as “him” on Wednesday night.
Becker, and the band, get a lifetime pass.
Becker’s glancing reference was during his onstage monologue midway through Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Chips” residency at The Venetian’s Opaline Theater. Becker was telling the crowd to spread word of mouth about the show to the mayor, “Tell him that when you left the Ovaltine Theater, or whatever they call it, that you’ve been rode hard and put up wet …”
Probably, I’ll not say exactly that to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. “Great show. See it,” should suffice.
Steely Dan is playing eight more shows in this extended engagement, through April 29. It’s one of those, “I never thought I’d see this in Vegas” residencies. For more than a decade, after disbanding in 1981, Steely Dan had no presence as a live band. They have, however, seemed to make up for that lull over the past decade with repeated world tours, and in the past five years have twice played Vegas at Pearl Concert Theater.
But the Steely Dan show, even in a hotel-casino theater, is not a Vegas spectacle, not in the least. The show is totally devoid of video or many production effects from other extended engagements, even those where rock ‘n’ roll musicianship is the highest priority.
At Encore Theater at the Wynn (and at Venetian Theater before) John Fogerty rolls through images of the Bayou, performs in front of virtual-reality rain and cues up old shots from his early days with Creedence Clearwater Revival. At House of Blues, Carlos Santana summons spinning psychedelia and footage of Woodstock. Elton John’s “Million Dollar Piano” at the Colosseum is stuffed with visual wizardry — including an LED-outfitted, million-dollar piano.
And that is not yet invoking the rotation of production numbers from Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, Cher, Bruno Mars and even Reba and Brooks & Dunn at the Strip’s increasingly busy theaters.
Instead, Steely Dan spends its generosity on the music. Yes, there is some judiciously placed lighting flooding the stage, but the music is clearly the draw for “Reelin’ in the Chips. Eleven singers and musicians backing Becker and co-founder Donald Fagen. A four-man horn section (righteous) joins stalwarts Jon Herington (lead guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Jim Beard (keys) and Keith Carlock (drums). It’s a show where you can close your eyes and still experience, and enjoy the collective artistry.
Everything you want to hear is there: “Peg,” “Hey 19,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Kid Charlemagne,” “Dirty Work,” all the classics and some tucked-away surprises, too.
Secretly I’d hoped Steely Dan would break out something with some Vegas flair, such knuckleballs as, “Luck Be a Lady,” “Danke Shoen” or even “Viva Las Vegas.” Just to see how that mix would play to the highly discriminate audience. Hey, when in Vegas …
But it was a superb show, featuring some real masters of their craft. And yes, mayor, you should see it.