Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
To mark the opening of the their chain of clubs, the bookers for Billboard have scored something of a coup: a series of club dates by Steely Dan. The original hypercool jazzy rockers have already sold out their opening week at the Tokyo venue and tickets for their multinight stands in Osaka and Fukuoka are going fast as Daniacs rush to take advantage of the chance to revel in the smooth, sharp sounds of Steely Dan in such an intimate setting.
The 2007 Heavy Rollers tour--the band's most extensive ever--features Steely Dan's original creative locus of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen backed by a 10-piece band, including a full horn section. Set lists on the tour thus far have reportedly leaned on material from their best-known album, 1977's Aja, and its 1980 follow-up, Gaucho, with a smattering of earlier hits and songs from their most recent two albums.
Reports from the road have it that Fagen is in excellent voice and is performing early hits, such as "Chain Lighting" and "Bad Sneakers," with polish and verve. Becker has shouldered the bulk of the guitar duties, with the aid of the formidable Everything Must Go and Two Against Nature contributor Jon Hernington. Uncharacteristically, Becker also has been seen singing often on the tour.
In their original heyday in the 1970s, Steely Dan rarely played live. The technology available at the time simply could not do the band justice in a live setting and Becker and Fagen were more interested in practicing their studio wizardry than performing in front of an audience. Nor was Steely Dan a band in the traditional sense. The lineup of performers varied widely after the first few years, not only from album to album, but from song to song.
Keyboard player and later singer Fagen and bassist/guitarist Becker, the creative bright lights around which the original band clustered, had originally met in 1967 at Bard College in New York. United by their love of black humor and soul music, the two played in various pickup bands in New York before joining established mainstream pop band Jay and the Americans in 1970. Their brief tenure with the band, which had scored a few hits in the early '60s but were clearly on their way out, resulted in a job as contract songwriters for ABC records.
Becker and Fagen saved their best songs for themselves, rehearsing the original band in their office after working hours. Naming themselves after a sexual prosthesis from William Burroughs' controversial novel Naked Lunch, their 1972 debut Can't Buy A Thrill established the band's reputation for top-notch musicianship, subversive sardonic humor and intelligent jazz-tinged rock.
Breaking up the original group after 1974, Becker and Fagen parked themselves in the studio for the rest of the decade, earning a reputation for being incredibly choosy about sound and performances. They were notorious for trying out as many as 20 guitar players from among the cream of the crop of Los Angeles' studio jazz and rock aces for a single guitar solo and recording over 50 snare drum sounds before settling on one for a single track. They also pioneered the use of digital technology in recording.
Their discerning perseverance paid off with seven platinum albums between 1972 and 1980. After a 10-year hiatus in the '80s, sound technology had caught up, and Becker and Fagan assembled a touring company that circled the globe repeatedly in the '90s. Inspired and creatively reinvigorated by the the live experience, they returned to the studio late in the decade, eventually emerging with 2000's Two Against Nature, that year's Grammy winner for album of the year. Their 2003 follow up Everything Must Go also earned critical praise.
(Aug. 11, 2007)
Note - just found out today that there will be room for me on the guest list after all. It's a good thing I'm such a jaded, cynical old journalist now or I'd be jumping around the newsroom screaming like a schoolgirl.
"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"