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September 1996

Killing Us Softly With Easy Listening
Steely Dan: Wembley Arena
Rating: * (Good)

Punk hadn't happened when Steely Dan were last in London; its major players had yet to discover therapy and Hawaii. The young Dan were thrashing their smart-arse repertoire into submission with two drummers, guitars supplied by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, all fuelled by exotic chemicals.

At Wembley veterans Walter Becker and Donald Fagen killed us with a different kindness, turning those ineffable deep-Seventies masterpieces into hummable slices of hip, easy listening. You couldn't blame them for not wanting to sound just like the records; you couldn't blame anyone else for wishing they'd stayed home with those records.

Fagen's non-voice, his characteristic nasal twang, put an appropriately morose gloss over "Do It Again". But while a fairly crack ensemble stuck to some rigorous arrangements, the evening panned out as a series of vignettes; the centre didn't hold.

This reunion wasn't blighted by nostalgia (Becker and Fagen always sounded older than their years), and it was still possible to marvel at coast-to-coast references that come dropped like litter for Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney to pick up a decade later. Moreover, their slinky pseudo-jazz came into its own on several occasions; in the glorious "Babylon Sisters"; in fragments of "Hey Nineteen", and the funky, loping "Chain Lightning". Not too bad then, but as they once said: "You can't buy a thrill."

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