Key Points:

JAZZ-ROCK FUSION

Who:

Steely Dan.

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Where:

Vector Arena, Auckland.

When:

Saturday.

Reviewer:

Liam Dann.

Whoever designed the souvenir T-shirts for the Steely Dan reunion tour summed up the band's schizophrenic image very nicely.

Two different T-shirts: one in the bright, hot-rod red, bubble font of the laid-back post-hippie early 70s, the other in a cool, gun-metal grey, adorned with an understated screen-print of Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Fans at the sold-out Vector Arena who were hoping for the southern California-flavoured rock of the early years may have been left disappointed - with some justification.

Many of the biggest hits were notable by their absence. No

Ricki Don't Lose That Number

, no

Reeling in the Years

- to name just a couple of the hits that still hold a place in fans' hearts and didn't get a look-in.

But this was surely a conscious decision by one of rock's most literate and self-conscious song-writing duos.

The trade-off was that we were spared the sentimental and sometimes depressing sight of a classic-hits parade from old rockers reliving past glories.

What we got was a timeless musical performance of breathtaking quality.

This was a performance of cool New York jazz - complete with a four-piece brass section and three harmonising backup singers.

Fagen, dressed in black and mostly seated at a keyboard, was largely the master of ceremonies.

He has a stagey charisma that he employs sparingly to chat with the crowd. Becker, on guitar, still favours a Mid-West look - as if he's got style advice from Neil Young.

They are composers and conductors - by their own admission the least technically proficient members of the band.

The show is largely built around

Aja

- the 1977 album that has latterly been recognised as the duo's seminal work and one of the high points in the era of jazz-rock fusion.

Almost the whole album got an outing -

Deacon Blue

,

Black Cow

and the title tracks all highlights of the night.

Other memorable numbers included

Haitian Divorce

and

Kid Charlemagne

. But no

Do It Again

, no

Bad Sneakers

... hmm ... One more hit in the encore might have been nice.

Still, it is the jazz tradition in which Becker and Fagen grew up and where they no doubt feel most comfortable. And it's a genre that lets them breathe new life into old songs.

The musicianship was so good that the obligatory introduction of band members complete with a solo from each instrument was a highlight, rather than the distracting interlude these things sometimes are.

The bass player and drummer delivered jaw-dropping explosions of funk mastery.

It is worthy of mention, after all the controversy that has surrounded the Vector Arena, that the sound was fantastic. Whether that was because of the style of music, clever sound engineers on the night or improvements made to the acoustics of the venue, who knows?

And the lighting was a treat: purple, yellow and green hues isolating and highlighting individual sections of the band. All class.

Steely Dan delivered a night of psychedelic, rock-influenced jazz - punctuated intermittently with pop hooks and lyrics that still evoke a slightly fantastical, literary construct of 1970s cool.

That made for a very fine night indeed.