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Steely Dan review – smooth tunes with sharp little bones

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BluesFest, O2 Arena, London
Donald Fagen, now sole founding member after the death of Walter Becker, is the vocal grit in the oyster of Steely Dan’s sophisticated, frictionless grooves

If Bruce Springsteen, in his own wry summation, avoided honest labour by writing about it, then Steely Dan have made a roaring success of narrating failure. Their songs are largely concerned with what you could call Steely Dan Man: a figure out of time, place and step, who is baffled by women, overtaken by events and puts the best gloss he can on a maladroit existence.

Having the Doobie Brothers support them at this final night of BluesFest might even be seen as a cunning way to highlight everything these presumed titans of the soft-rock era are not. They are not good old boys innocuously celebrating life’s elemental joys. They are only just a rock band, taking much from jazz and R&B, and even their smoothest tunes have sharp little bones. This show is the first in the UK since the death of singer Donald Fagen’s songwriting partner Walter Becker; an empty mic stand is poignantly set up.

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