The legendary smoothed-out satirists/geniuses Steely Dan brought their The Dan Who Knew Too Much tour through Los Angeles over the weekend, playing to a packed Hollywood Bowl on June 18. They were joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra who performed arrangements that Vince Mendoza put together for the songs, and it marked the first time that the band, famously protective of their sound, had performed with an Orchestra.

This Dan fan was worried that the orchestra might be a distraction, but aside from some intros, I didn't much notice them, and they were very low in the mix. It was, as far as I could tell, a normal Steely Dan show, which is to say an impeccably performed evening of some of the greatest avant-pop songs ever made. We were treated to, as Walter Becker put it in a winding, hilarious monologue in the middle of "Hey Nineteen," "hit after hit after hit." The set was heavy on material from the band's last three classic albums; The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho, all of which play beautifully with the army of musical mercenaries that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker bring on tour with them.

They opened with the jazzy "Green Earrings," which provided ample solo time for all the horn and guitar players on hand, before transitioning into the fan-favorite "Aja." If Steely Dan hadn't written so many amazing songs, it would be worth seeing them simply as one of the most polished large-scale jazz bands that money can buy, but of course they do have seemingly endless great material to draw from. The aforementioned "Hey Nineteen" was fantastic, as Becker's mid-song banter led deliberately ("I'd like to buy you all a drink, and I'm not talking about wine, or bourbon, or gin") into the backup singers' chorus of "the Cuervo Gold." "Deacon Blues" into the Pretzel Logic groove-machine "Night By Night" was another particularly inspired transition. As someone who fetishizes those last three records, it was amazing to here them bust out comparatively deep cuts like "The Caves of Altamira," "Time out of Mind," and "Third World Man" as the set wore on.

They closed down with an impressive back to back, first hitting the air-guitar classic "Bodhisattva" at an even faster than usual tempo, with an impressive (literal) fireworks display as an accompaniment. Then they brought things back down for the close with the classic (and Kanye West-sampled) "Kid Charlemagne."

Steely Dan are the kind of band that doesn't always encourage casual listeners. While they have their share of hits, their catalogue is so rich and varied, their musicianship (and particularly their studio prowess) so daunting, and their arch tone so potentially alienating, that their fans often tend to be fans, and for those of us who fall into that category, Saturday night was a raging success. Music that was always defined to some degree by the contrast between polish and irony is still as polished but somewhat less ironic outside of its original cultural context. Becker mentioned that LA was the city that first gave them a chance ("I guess we were too freaky deaky for New York"), and in such a huge venue, in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, with fireworks blazing, it was hard not to be moved by both the irony and artistry of the spectacle.

“The Dan Who Knew Too Much” tour, which is with Steve Winwood , has lots of East Coast shows coming up, including PNC Bank Arts Center on July 6 and other NJ, NY and CT shows as well. Then they'll play 10 nights at Beacon Theatre in NYC in October.

Check out the setlist, pictures, and videos from the 6/18 Hollywood Bowl show below.


SETLIST: Steely Dan — 6/18 Hollywood Bowl
Green Earrings
The Caves of Altamira
Hey Nineteen
The Royal Scam
Deacon Blues
Night by Night
Time Out of Mind
Third World Man
Home at Last
Kid Charlemagne

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