London Hammersmith Apollo

...merely virtuosity for its own sake...

Anyone of a disgruntled persuasion who had the misfortune to be Scottish during the mid-’80s despised [a]Steely Dan[/a]. Or at least, they did on learning that it was this pair of literate New York misanthropes who had inspired an apparently endless stream of Caledonian pseudo-soul schmuckery, represented at its murkiest depths by loathsome leftist lounge lizards Hue & Cry.

Of course, you couldn’t hold Walter Becker and Donald Fagen actually responsible for Deacon Blue, just because the name came from one of their songs. And [a]Steely Dan[/a]’s string of ’70s albums remain startling to this day, paragons of a malevolent synthesis of jazz and blues, creating a kind of pop that was arch, evil and truly unprecedented. If a little too clever for its own good. Which is why [a]Steely Dan[/a]’s ongoing reactivation as a live concern remains a puzzle. Sure, Becker and Fagen probably reckon they’ve earnt this indulgence, that they’re old muckers who now just want to kick back and taste the noodles that infest every song in a two-hour set that’s still insufficient to allow for more than a cursory examination of this year’s comeback album ‘Two Against Nature’. But one had selfishly imagined they’d be too smart to let it come down to this, hauling around an 11-piece troupe of session musicians – albeit probably the best session musicians in the world – and soaking up the easy adulation from a hall full of 40-something fans eager to cling on to what’s left of their youth. A few of ’em have even brought their offspring. Next to the Dan‘s overload of technique, solos dripping from every spare chord, Coldplay must feel dangerous to these kids.

Fagen conducts proceedings from behind his Fender Rhodes, looking like yer ex-hippy English teacher back from rehab. If he maybe looks a little vexed at the turn of events, who can blame him? What once was the subversive sound of young men playing old people’s music is now merely virtuosity for its own sake, a right royal scam if ever there was one.