Live preview: Steely Dan
Your insider's guide to the enigmatic jazz-rockers' lengthy Beacon Theatre run.
Wed Sep 7 2011
Photograph: Danny Clinch
There are two types of Steely Dan fans: those who regard band principals Donald Fagen and Walter Becker as satirical, jazz-steeped nerd deities, and those who know a few classic-rock-radio staples, but don't really get what all the fuss is about. As the Dan prepares to set up camp on the Upper West Side—playing seven Beacon Theatre shows, each with a different theme—we offer a guide to the proceedings, with each gig rated on a scale of 1 (novice-friendly) to 5 (diehards only).
"Dawn of the Dan"
Fagen and Becker kick off their run with a survey of their first three albums ('72's Can't Buy a Thrill, '73's Countdown to Ecstasy and '74's Pretzel Logic). Expect hits aplenty ("Do It Again," "Reelin' in the Years" and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" are all fair game), but also some of the oddball palate cleansers that dot the band's early catalog—a loopy cover of Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" or, fingers crossed, the should-be yacht-rock classic "Only a Fool Would Say That."
Greatest-hits hounds are guaranteed some "Hey Nineteen" at this rundown of 1980's Gaucho, the last Dan album before the band's decade-plus hiatus. But also making an appearance will be some of Fagen and Becker's strangest, funniest and most straight-up disturbing songs ("Gaucho," "Glamour Profession" and "Babylon Sisters," respectively).
The Dan has never been an outtakes band: Notorious perfectionists in the studio, Fagen and Becker painstakingly assembled concise LPs and chucked the leftovers. Rare tracks do exist, however (download "The Bear," a true lost masterpiece, immediately), and tonight's set list brings them out of the vault. This one's strictly for the completists.
Arguably Fagen and Becker's strongest front-to-back LP statement, 1977's Aja shows off both the band's dance-friendly side (the sleazy, irresistible "Peg") and its penchant for fusion-style virtuosity (the title track, with its black-diamond sax-and-drums workout). Nerds and novices should feel equally at home here.
The Royal Scam
Crowd-pleaser "Kid Charlemagne"—perhaps the most nonpreachy and wickedly entertaining portrait of a drug dealer in all of rock—kicks off this 1976 set, an album that grows weirder as it goes on. But even the more offbeat tracks (the brass-heavy "Sign in Stranger" and the reggae-ish "Haitian Divorce") come coated in a show-tune-style glitz that should play particularly well at the Beacon.
"By Popular Demand"
The Web-savvy get to help shape tonight's set list by voting for their favorite Fagen-Becker tune at steelydan.com. While it's possible that the cognoscenti will win out—I'll cast my vote for the little-heard minitragedy "Here at the Western World"—expect a greatest-hits vibe to prevail.
"21st Century Dan" + The Royal Scam
Fagen and Becker conclude their residency with a head-scratcher. Getting top billing is a set drawn from the Dan's two largely subpar post-reunion efforts, 2000's Two Against Nature and 2003's Everything Must Go. Also on tap, though, is a one-night-only run-through of The Royal Scam featuring guitarist Larry Carlton, whose solos on the original record continue to dazzle and delight six-string geeks worldwide. For those in the know, this gig will be a rare treat.