Wednesday night at BB&T Pavilion, in their Summer of Living Dangerously tour, the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan separately rocked out for more than three and a half hours total. Despite time and the ravages of age, they did well by their legacies. The message: You can't really reel in the years … but you can ride them good and hard.
First were the Doobies. Two originals – Patrick Simmons and singer/songwriter Tom Johnston – plus longtimer John McFee (wearing his signature kilt), are the guitar trio in the center. This band was always a vocal group with guitars aplenty, and that's what boomed out of the BB&T's overloaded speakers. Everyone still sings well, and we heard guitar solos, duels, and trios galore. A pretty, high fourth voice came from bassist John Cowan, one of the leads for "Takin' It to the Streets," the night's only nod to the Michael McDonald years.
The 15-song set list delighted the crowd, although the front two-thirds, with tunes such as "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman" and "Eyes of Silver," exposed the sameness of the Doobie catalog. But the palette varied, thanks to sax man Marc Russo, terrific longtime Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, and McFee, who took strolls on harmonica, pedal steel, and violin (on "Black Water").
The band put down the accelerator as of the superb "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)," with Simmons channeling the Jeff "Skunk" Baxter solo. At "Black Water," the audience took over, singing along, happy to get hit over the head, as it had to be, with "Long Train Running," "China Grove," and "Listen to the Music."
Steely Dan … what an all-star band! With the loss of cofounding Dan twin Walter Becker in September, Donald Fagen, now the man in the spotlight, surrounds himself with incredible musicians. Becker was present in the great music-making onstage, which was true to both his songwriting and musicianship. Nothing seemed to be missing, and Becker's legacy was honored. Guitarist Jon Herington, longtime Dan member, has a featherweight, lightning touch: He plays enough of the old solos to say, "I know you want this," but adds something new of his own. The horns – Walt Weiskopf on tenor sax, Roger Rosenberg on baritone, Michael Leonhart on trumpet, and Jim Pugh on trombone – simply killed all night. And drummer Keith Carlock – who is this guy?
More comfortable with an audience than he once was, even affable, Fagen was content to skulk around the stage like a creepy old uncle, twiddling on his melodica, rocking shades behind the keyboards, an odd combo of Jeff Goldblum and Stevie Wonder. His voice deserted him this night. He barked and nasalized many passages, and relied heavily on the magnificent Danettes (La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell, and Carolyn Leonhart). Not just background singers, they stayed central and sexy all night long. Their reimagined "Dirty Work" was far superior to the popular 1972 original.