Thursday, July 20, 2006

Steely Dan and Michael McDonald

Takin' it to the streets-circa 1978
In the late seventies, I got to drive the family Dodge Omni to school if I dropped my dad off at the train station every morning at o-dark-thirty. The Omni had nice and sticky vinyl seats and a swingin' 8-track player slung under the dash. In the summer of 1978, I wore out my 8-track of Steely Dan's, Aja, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I saw the reunited Becker and Fagen in Virginia during the 2000 tour in support of their Grammy winning album, Two Against Nature. Great show. The band was tight. They even played Boston Rag that night.

When I found out they were touring again this summer, a friend and I bought tix months ago to the show in Phoenix. Well, that friend is a Navy Reservist, and he left for Iraq last week. So, I took my oldest son up to smoggy Phoenix for his first show.

The Michael McDonald portion was led by a nasty sandstorm that pretty much continued throughout the night. Michael McDonald has to be the Celine Dion of blue-eyed soul. He filled every off-lyric portion of every song with high-pitched and mumbled wails. He also frequently turned his head off mike in a move that looked Ray Charles-like, but only deprived us of hearing whether he was on or off key while he was free-styling. McDonald played a lot of old Motown and Doobie Brothers tunes. The crowd reacted with energy every time he began one of his Doobie hits, but he lost momentum by the end of every song. His Motown takes were better. He even brought on a local Baptist choir to sing backup on Taking to the Streets and Ain't No Mountain High Enough. The gem of the night was You Belong to Me, which I remember as a Carly Simon song, but one I found out later he wrote with her. Overall, a solid show from a slick professional.

Steely Dan was just not the same band I saw in 2000. Many of the same musicians were still in the touring band, but everything seemed an rpm slow and uninspired. They played only the 70's stuff. Nothing from Two Against Nature, Everything Must Go, or Fagen's brand new Morph the Cat. That's unfortunate, cause H-Gang from Morph is a fantastic song. I also really like Cousin Dupree, Almost Gothic and Jack of Speed from Two Against Nature.

I'm no sound engineer, but it sounded like the technical crew mixed out all but the highest treble across the board. Fagen sounded like he was singing thru a bullhorn much of the night. I also often couldn't hear Fagen at all, his voice being lost behind the two female vocalists. One of the most distinctive Michael McDonald moments as a member of Steely Dan were his backing vocals on Peg. I was excited to see McDonald join the Dan for a few numbers at the end of the show, including Peg. Once again, the chicks drowned out both McDonald and Fagen. But they were hot signing, "The Cuervo Gold-the fine Columbian, make tonight a wonderful thing..."

Back in the day, Steely Dan would bring in the best session musicians to play on their albums. Walter Becker usually got credit for playing some guitar and some bass. Live and in 2006, Becker plays a lot of the classic guitar solos. He seems to play the same stuff on the same guitar on every solo. Becker is half of a truly great musical partnership, but he doesn't bring what Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Rick Derringer or Larry Carlton brought to the mix.

On the positive side, a real keeper from this show was hearing Don't Take Me Alive, an obscure but tight rocker, laced with black humor in typical Dan-style from The Royal Scam. Three songs I'd still love to hear them do live-Rikki Don't Lose That Number (which they never play live-Yeah I dig the basic bump, but it's the guitar solo I love), Doctor Wu (check out the multi-tracked Fagen harmonies) and Caves of Altimira (with its Chicagoesque horns).

Yeah I bitch. But I bitch because I love. I'd see Becker and Fagen again in a heartbeat-even in another sandstorm. They'll be in Charlotte later in the tour.


IwoCPO said...

Again, you impress me. Steely Dan is in the Iwo Top 5 bands of all time.

A special BZ if you can tell me without looking it up how Becker and Fagen came up with the name .

CasonBlog said...

Chief - Hard to forget this one. Steely Dan was the pet name for a woman's personal instrument of pleasure in a novel Fagen or Becker read.

Ingmar "W" Bergman said...

Wow, the Dodge Omni. That brings back some old memories.

One of my old classmates dad had an Omni. He was American and we thought he was the coolest.

Unfortunately, this was 84-85. That shows you how late we were in Sweden to get things that were American.

But he was still the man. Because he had a friggin' Dodge Omni!

That was truly (Gallileo Figaro) Magnifico

(I know It wasn't a Mirthmobile BTW).

All I remember about Steely Dan is they had a music video were they rode dirtbikes or something like that.

The Acid Queen said...

Oh man, Steely Dan. Hearing them takes me back to when I was 8 and went on a weekend trip to Pismo Beach with my maternal uncle and some of his buddies--I still laugh every time I hear the intro to "Deacon Blues", because I can just hear my uncle telling me "You spill that, and you're going to Scotchgard this whole van." after handing me a strawberry shake.

(And no, I didn't spill it.)

CasonBlog said...

That was the base model Omni. Not the sexier GLH model that came out later. We were a Chrysler family as Chrysler was crashing (before Iacoca). We also had a Dodge Diplomat station wagon with fake woodie sides and everythang.

d-lee said...

Hey.... you might want to check this out. I got this from the Portastatic blog. It's an open letter from Steely Dan to Luke Wilson about how Owen Wilson "stole" the title of his newest film from them.

I can't tell if they're trying to be funny, or if they're taking themselves WAY too seriously. I hope it's the former.

d-lee said...

oh yeah... haha. here's the link to the letter.

CasonBlog said...

I think it's a gag. They did something similar with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-writing a letter pitching themselves as candidates. The boys are always in search of a bit.

IwoCPO said...

Outstanding shipmate. However, I'd heard they saw said instrument in a shop in Greenwich Village. Your version sounds more accurate.

CasonBlog said...

From" The first product by Steely Dan - the name was taken from that of a dildo in William Burrough's book, The Naked Lunch - hit the stores in June 1972."

IwoCPO said...

I'll have to call about 300 people and tell them I was wrong when I corrected their trivia answers. Damn.

Stormbringer said...

Better late than never:

To me, the best albums the Dan ever did were/still are Countdown To Ecstasy and The Royal Scam. Whenever the Dallas Stars have played "Bodhisattvah" (it's a hard choice, but in the end, that would have to be my top pick for most favorite Dan song) at their home games, it's all I can do to not melt into a puddle of rock 'n roll ecstasy right there in front of the TV.

Though "Don't Take Me Alive", "Showbiz Kids", "My Old School", "King of the World", and "Green Earrings" are damn good tunes too. 8D

CasonBlog said...

They did Green Earrings the other night. I didn't like it. Diving into the obscure Dan song bin, how about "Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More?"

Stormbringer said...

"Daddy Don't Live..." is pretty good. Another couple I forgot to mention: "Your Gold Teeth" and "Pretzel Logic".

I also hafta admit that "The Fez" is easily a guilty pleasure favorite of mine. I just cannot help but dig the synths and guitar in that thing.