Gettin’ smooth in the sun

• Jazz-rock hit-makers Steely Dan play all their faves for a sold-out Les Schwab Amphitheater

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog

On July 3, my wife and I got a baby sitter and split up to do our own fun things. She went out with friends. I played softball, had a little dinner and then headed over to Les Schwab Amphitheater to see ’70s jazz-rock hit-makers Steely Dan, live and in the flesh.

I didn’t hurry. I knew their scheduled starting time and figured buying a ticket at the box office would be no problem, since the Schwab has hosted only one officially sold-out show over the past 11 years: A 2004 concert by Jack Johnson. (Note: Two shows later this summer — Jack Johnson and the Dave Matthews Band — have also sold out.)

I was wrong. When I asked the woman at the window for one $45 general-admission ticket, she told me she only had $99 reserved seats left.

I was shocked.

Look, I know Steely Dan is one of the most respected and popular acts of the classic-rock era. I know people revere the band’s core duo, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, for their brilliant melodies and unparalleled musical chops.

I get all that. But apparently I don’t, because I didn’t expect the Dan to sell out the amphitheater for the second time in its history.

They did, though, packing 6,000 folks into the place. Because of the reserved seating and the numerous chairs and blankets spread across the grass, the crowd was pretty much shoulder to shoulder all the way from the front of the venue to the lawn’s hilly backside. It was quite a scene.

Oh, I forgot to mention: I got in, eventually. I was standing outside the venue, listening to Walter Becker ramble his way through his traditional “rap” during “Hey Nineteen” (this one seemed particularly dismissive of modern music), when I ran into someone with an extra ticket.

For a few minutes, I considered not entering the Schwab and choosing instead to lounge outside and people-watch, something I’ve never done before at the amphitheater. Ultimately, though, the lush chorus and buttery guitar solo of “Bad Sneakers” drew me in. I was helpless, as if caught in a tractor beam of smooth vibes.

I can’t claim to be a Steely Dan super-fan; I know the hits and a few non-hits, and I was sated by what I saw. The band did the funky little title track from its 2000 album “Two Against Nature” and the slinky, syrupy “Babylon Sisters,” with one of my favorite Dan tunes, “Bodhisattva,” in between. Its rock ’n’ roll feel and relatively quick tempo were a nice change of pace from the rest of the languid set. The loping groove and burbling keys of “Dirty Work” were also a highlight, not only for me but also the guy in front of me who brought out his Air Trumpet for the song.

The band closed its main set with gusto, going from another of my Dan faves, “Josie,” into “Peg” — both songs with funky verses that open up into gloriously expansive choruses — and then into “My Old School,” which was as close to full-on rocking as Steely Dan got on this night.

With my baby sitter clock ticking, I packed up and started heading for the gate, lingering just long enough to hear “Reelin’ in the Years,” whose distinctive opening guitar riff was met by a huge cheer from the crowd, and at least one guy busting out his Air Fishing Rod! He was reeling it in, see?

It was a good show and Steely Dan is a great band with an amazing catalog. Was it squarely up my alley? Not really. But it was for 5,999 other people. This was a slightly older crowd, you might not be surprised to hear, and they were dancing and singing along and having fun. It was a blast to watch.

Me? I walked out, hopped in my car, turned on the stereo and cranked up ’90s pop-punk greats The Muffs as loud as I could.

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com