Steely Dan will perform eight shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York in October. Four will feature full albums in their entirety, two will be devoted to greatest hits, one will be requests, and one is described as “The Most Unforgettable Night of Whatever — Featuring Spectacular Musical Guests, Glorious Tunes and Riffage, and Whatever the Party Calls For!”
I don’t know what Elvis Costello’s next project will be, but judging from the past, it could be country, or jazz, or just about anything.
Performing together at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on Saturday, though, both artists did what a balmy summer night at a large outdoor amphitheater calls for, playing sets devoted mostly to very familiar material. There were no revelations in this show, unless you were a new fan of either act, and previously unaware of how great they are.
This was a show full of world-class material, first-rate musicianship and fully committed performances. But no real surprises.
That included no collaborative effort between the two acts. I know, I know: You can’t really expect that, even though they’ve been on the road together for a few weeks, and have 10 days of touring together still to come (including a show Monday at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden). But it would have been a nice touch, giving someone who is a big fan of both acts (and I have to believe a good portion of the crowd falls into that category) something to remember for years.
Steely Dan is Donald Fagen, who sang lead on most songs and played keyboards, and Walter Becker, who played guitar, sang a bluesy lead on “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More” and served as the rambling and acerbic (not two qualities you often see combined) master of ceremonies — plus 11 other virtuoso musicians, including four horn players and three backing vocalists. Virtually everyone had at least one moment to step up and shine, whether that meant drummer Keith Carlock masterfully steering the band through the tricky “Aja,” or guitarist Jon Herington nailing the intricately curlicued solo of “Reeling in the Years,” or Cindy Mizelle (a member of the expanded touring version of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in recent years) singing lead with deeply emotional authority on “Dirty Work.”
The band, sans Fagen and Becker, opened and closed the show with jazzy instrumentals, and band introductions took place during a cover of Joe Tex’s “I Want To (Do Everything for You.)” “Godwhacker,” from Steely Dan’s last studio album (2003’s Everything Must Go) made it into the setlist, but everything else came from the Steely Dan’s initial 1972-1981 incarnation, including “Josie,” “Peg,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Black Friday,” “Kid Charlamagne” and “My Old School.”
They played for two hours, while Costello was onstage for just an hour. But he leaned heavily on the ’70s, too, with “Radio Radio,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Accidents Will Happen,” “Alison” “Pump It Up,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” His backing band, The Imposters, includes Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums — both members of his glory-days band The Attractions — plus Davey Faragher on bass, and they gleefully re-created the punk-influenced drive of the original recordings.
Elvis Costello & the Attractions may have been one of the most sophisticated new wave bands, but heard at the same show with Steely Dan, they seemed almost primitive. (Not that that’s a bad thing.)
Costello moved quickly from one song to the next, cramming a lot into his hour. “High Fidelity” and “Clubland” were faster and more bracing than they were in their original recordings, and he did touch on more recent material, too, with “Flutter & Wow” and “Bedlam.” During “Everyday I Write the Book,” he roamed around the crowd as he sang — a gracious, crowd-pleasing touch.
Steely Dan and Costello will perform at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden on Monday; visit livenation.com. Steely Dan will also be at the Beacon Theatre in New York on Oct. 6-7, 9-10, 13-14 and 16-17.