November 12, 2009 |
Could Steely Dan have grown a heart? The group's "Rent Party" tour slouches into the Tower Theater Nov. 19 and 20. It's an audience-oriented affair: The band performs entire albums (the sainted Aja on the 19th and the scarcely less-celebrated Royal Scam the next night) and takes requests. What? Whole albums? Requests? What have you guys done with my Steely Dan? Walter Becker, one of the two fellows (the other being Donald Fagen) at the heart of this floating jazz-pop orchestra, says it's not that big a change.
January 26, 1992 |
Donald Fagen isn't assigning any blame, but he doesn't think it was coincidence that he spent most of the '80s battling an epic case of writer's block. In 1980, when he and Walter Becker dissolved the songwriting and production entity known as Steely Dan, Ronald Reagan was about to become president, Off the Wall was Michael Jackson's biggest album to date, and MTV was still on the drawing board. The decade that followed wasn't pretty. The unchecked greed that motivated big business couldn't help but affect the arts, where suddenly statistics on chart position and market share were celebrated over content.
May 25, 1993 |
Ever since Eric Clapton's incredible career resurgence, a parade of rock veterans has returned to share suddenly mature perspectives. Sometimes, the artists' newly sensitive lyrics are accompanied by a previously unheard musical sophistication: Just in time for his third-act revival, Joe Rock Star learns to play more than the three basic chords. But what about those whose probing, fully developed (even adult) music was underappreciated the first time around? Must they radically alter their approach just to demonstrate that they've "evolved"?
July 22, 1996 |
A strange thing happened at Camden's Waterfront Entertainment Centre on Saturday. Every time Donald Fagen said something like "Now we're going to go way back, to prehistoric Steely Dan," the crowd went wild. But when the chestnut was finished, it was met with only polite applause. It was as though the prospect of hearing Steely Dan's old songs was more exciting than the actual execution. The nine-piece that supported keyboardist Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker brought the music to life with professional confidence, and that was part of the problem: At times, the rearrangements sounded as if they were lifted from some Las Vegas revue in which all the irony and droll humor had been drained from the songs.
September 22, 1993 |
So a few songs were in a lower key to accommodate Donald Fagen's aging voice. And the frontmen - Fagen and the man he introduced as his "partner," guitarist Walter Becker - took their jobs as "hosts" a little too seriously, with nerdy-guy chatter that no doubt resonated with the abundance of nerdy guys in the audience. And some rearrangements of old songs, particularly "Reelin' in the Years," were horrific examples of how to mess with people's memories. The grievance list goes on. But Steely Dan still matters.
June 30, 2008 |
Steely Dan had no real agenda to push Saturday at Camden's Susquehanna Bank Center, which didn't stop the two-hour set from offering breezy entertainment on a muggy night, suitably showcasing some of the band's more reggae-tinged tunes among its clever jazz-pop fare. Such included the opening vocal number, "The Royal Scam," title track of the 1976 album it repeatedly dipped into. (In performance, that record's "Everything You Did" and "Babylon Sisters," especially, got the Jamaican lilt.
August 25, 2003 |
Since the buttoned-up duo behind Steely Dan - Donald Fagen and Walter Becker - have loosened their reserve in the last few years, their once-rare concerts have become regular visits. At Saturday night's sold-out gig at the Tweeter Center in Camden, the pair's formerly sterile soul-jazz blossomed. The glossy sheen of Fagen's Fender Rhodes keys had an ominous, fuzzy tickle. Becker's guitars fluidly plucked and clucked their blues runs. The two didn't even wear suits, opting instead for casual dress in league with their 11-piece band and an overall breezy funk.
February 27, 2000 |
In the chronology of rock-and-roll careers, second acts - for those lucky enough to get them - have a familiar arc. First, there's the big reunion announcement. Then the parties involved try to return to their carefree days by writing songs that are either oblivious to everything that's happened musically since the band's heyday or that desperately try to glom onto the latest trend. The comeback album whimpers. The tour pleases only the faithful. And before long, the participants find themselves back in their gated communities, enjoying early retirement.
August 20, 1992 |
Just how ahead of its time was Steely Dan? Tuesday night at the Spectrum, more than 10,000 people stomped and sang along to the bitter, vindictive "My Old School," from the group's 1973 Countdown to Ecstacy album, and there was nothing nostalgic about it. Here, delayed by 20 years, was the intelligent, precise music we were told would never be played live. Here were guitar solos that retained the spirit of the originals, but were even more daring, and vocals ad-libbed as soulfully as classic blues.
September 24, 2013 |
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen bonded as diehard jazz fans at Bard College in the late '60s, and, judging by their two-hour set at the Mann Center on Saturday night, the pair at the core of Steely Dan remain aficionados nearly 50 years later. Their eight-piece backing band, dubbed "the Bipolar All-Stars" for the band's current Mood Swings tour, bookended the show with big-band renditions of Gerry Mulligan's "Blueport" and Nelson Riddle's TV theme from The Untouchables . Throughout the evening, the band's four horn players, all active jazz and studio musicians, were given ample time in the spotlight to flex their virtuosity in the midst of the band's jazz-laced hits.