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Concert Reviews:
Steely Dan, Steve Winwood play it safe, familiar at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2016

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- "As I recall," Steely Dan's Walter Becker told the crowd Wednesday night, June 8, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, "the 70s were good, altogether."

Add the 60s to that and Becker just about nailed the prevailing sentiment at the amphitheater.

At this juncture Steely Dan and opening act Steve Winwood are all about serving up musical comfort food to their boomer audience, more than a few of whom were good-naturedly noting they were up past their bedtime on a school night. There were plenty of dependable hits and a bit of reliable schtick, all abundantly familiar -- perhaps to a fault, given the depth of their respective catalogs, but crowd-pleasing nonetheless.

Winwood, who's kept his repertoire fairly static during the past several years, did nod to this century during his hour on stage with the mellow "At Times We Do Forget" from his 2008 album "Nine Lives," and gave the mid-80s a drive-by with his smash "Higher Ground." But his focus was decidedly on the 60s, bookending his set with the Spencer Davis Group classics "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" and leading his four-piece band through long, jammy renditions of Traffic's "Pearly Queen," "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and Blind Faith's always moving "Can't Find My Way Home," the latter two giving Winwood a chance to stretch out on guitar.

Steely Dan has put out new music since 2000, too; that year's "Two Against Nature" even won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. But its two-hour show drew entirely from the band's classic era of 1972-80, with the 15-piece band's virtuosity enlivening a pedestrian setlist that offered little in the way of rarities or surprises ("Show Biz Kids" and "Time Out of Mind" don't really count as those) -- and often fell victim to an overly bright sound mix that buried Freddie Washington's bass and the four-piece horn section. It did, however, give plenty of sonic headroom to the guitar heroics by Beck and John Herrington, the latter of whom shined particularly on showcases such as "Bodhisattva," "Kid Charlemagne," "My Old School" and "Reelin' in the Years."

Becker acquitted himself well, too -- despite draggy band member introductions vamped into a cover of Joe Tex's "I Want To (Do Everything For You)" -- while Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen was in strong voice throughout the 19-song set. The Danettes backing vocal trio handled "Dirty Work" and trumpeter Walt Weiskopf had a couple of spotlight moments, while the parade of favorites -- the opening "Black Cow," "Aja," "Hey Nineteen" (with it's well-received shout-out to Aretha Franklin), "Peg," "Josie" and "Pretzel Logic" -- even succeeded in bringing staid fans to their feet by the end of the night.

It's a hard line for classic rockers to tread, of course, resting on hits vs. pushing a bit deeper, and newer. Steely Dan and Winwood took the path of least resistance on Wednesday -- and, to their edification, it's fair to say that nobody at DTE minded a bit.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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