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Steely Dan at Mud Island Amphitheatre

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After launching their 1972 debut Can't Buy a Thrill with the beautiful, bitter radio-rock classic "Reeling in the Years," Steely Dan became AOR staples throughout the decade. Yet musical partners Walter Becker and Donald Fagen never really seemed that fond of rock. Rather, Becker and Fagen assembled their sui generis sound from every element tangential to rock-and-roll — jazz, traditional pop, blues, and R&B. Steely Dan's songs were tricky, laden with irony and delivered by untrustworthy narrators, qualities hard to hear through a sonic aesthetic that could sound like cocktail hour for upscale fortysomethings. But the very source of Steely Dan's charm is in the tension, such as it is, between the band's low-life lyrics and high-toned jazz-rock soundscapes. Those plush, meticulous backing tracks are perhaps best heard as the idealized interior soundtrack of the typical Steely Dan protagonist — invariably a well-educated and well-off white guy of questionable moral character for whom things aren't quite working out. Fagen has even sort of endorsed this reading by confessing that he and Becker think of their albums as comedy records to some degree. Reuniting more than a decade ago as a touring and occasional recording unit, Steely Dan has aged well. This isn't surprising: The band's music has always sounded "old," so, in a way, Becker and Fagen may just be catching up with their own sound. Steely Dan plays the Mud Island Amphitheatre on Friday, September 6th. Showtime is 8 p.m. — Chris Herrington

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