The Doobie Brothers out sizzle Steely Dan at Lakeview show

Doobie Brothers out sizzle Steely Dan at Lakeview

Review: The second headliner couldn’t maintain the spark of their fellow ‘70s rock legends
Published: July 10, 2018 | Updated: July 12th, 2018 at 4:12 pm

Dual headliners don’t always work. Unless you’re going full Watch the Throne and with Jay-Z and Kanye commanding equal amounts of the stage at the same time, two superstar acts who play one after another are always going to draw comparisons.

That inevitably happened Tuesday night when Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers split stage responsibilities at the St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview

Around 8:30 p.m., The Doobie Brothers had just finished a rollicking set. The lines of the silver-haired crowd had been whipped into a sunny frenzy, aided by the abundance of amber liquor and wafts of green in the air. The ‘70s rock legends had showcased their musical range, mixing in soulful harmonies on “Take Me in Your Arms,” brass-infused “Eyes of Silver” (complete with a trance-inducing sax solo courtesy of Marc Russo), and the hard rock, guitar solo dripping “Rockin’ Down the Highway.”

While the highlight of their set was the bluegrass-infused singalong “Black Water,” The Doobie Brothers were more typified by their 1989 rockabilly track “The Doctor.” As Tom Johnston belted the chorus of “music is the doctor/makes to feel like you want to,” the sun cast a warm light over the amphitheater and the crowd finally felt loosened up. When they finished with the crowd-pleasing acoustic anthem “Listen to The Music,” a standing ovation filled the lawn and seats with an anticipation that more good was yet to come.

But it didn’t. Donald Fagen and this current iteration of Steely Dan left with a bit of a whimper. In the band’s first tour since co-founding member Walter Becker died last year, the American rockers failed to build on the fire that had been lit by The Doobie Brothers.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Fagen channeled his inner Stevie Wonder, bobbing his head and losing himself in his keyboard, particularly during the early set. The muted wall of color that served as their backdrop didn’t detract from the enthusiasm but there wasn’t much else to carry them.

During the breakdowns in the middle of the set on tracks like “Aja,” “Josie,” and “Peg,” the crowd seemed somewhat lost in a trance. While the rapturous applause suggested they were happy with Fagen and his band’s output, it felt like there was a disconnect between the funk, soul and rock Steely Dan were channeling and the celebration the crowd felt like they were in for.

It wasn’t that Steely Dan was bad. They soothed with the reggae stylings of “Kid Charlemagne,” helped by a funky, rhythmic bass line from “Ready” Freddie Washington. Set highlight, “My Old School,” was jazzed up with some Motown sounding trumpets and trombones, keeping the concert moving and the crowd engaged just enough.

It can’t be easy to decide which of two legendary rock bands opens and closes on any given night. It’s really an embarrassment of riches. On this night, however, the energy of The Doobie Brothers will be remembered more than the anticlimactic wall of sound Steely Dan produced.

Avatar for Peter Benson

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.