By Sarah Rodman
Generally when a band takes a 20-year hiatus from making music, its return is heralded on the oldies circuit and VH1’s “Where Are They Now?”
But when Steely Dan re-entered the pop music orbit in February with “Two Against Nature,” the album debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard charts. It has since gone platinum and the ’70s hitmakers play the Tweeter Center on Saturday.
“It’s been great,” said singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen about the band’s successful comeback. “We knew we had a good record, but we’re glad that at least a certain number of younger people are into it.” Thankfully any younger people who come on board with “Two Against Nature” are not being lured by hokey attempts by Fagen and Dan co-founder and guitarist Walter Becker to include hip-hop beats or metallic guitar into their classic jazz rock sound.
“There is some subtle evolution in a lot of ways,” said Fagen, “but we didn’t feel honest about doing something totally weird. You have to fall into that naturally.”
For Fagen and Becker, who met as classmates at Bard College in the ’60s, that means carefully crafting melodic rock songs about fringe characters and quirky scenarios.
The disc’s catchy first single “Cousin Dupree” concerns an older man’s lascivious – and unfulfilled – feelings for a younger female relation. And “Gaslighting Abbie” is the heartwarming tale of the attempts by a man and his mistress to drive his wife insane. In other words the good old Steely Dan of “Hey Nineteen” and “Peg” fame is back, sideways worldview intact.
While it’s been 20 years since Dan’s last album, the close friends never fell out of touch.
“We’ve pretty much been working all along, either separately on solo albums or sometimes together on various projects so it’s more of a continuum to us,” Fagen says of his releases 1982’s “The Nightfly” and 1993’s “Kamakyriad” and Becker’s “11 Tracks of Whack” from 1994.
The two musicians, who use session players for their band, swore off touring after their second album in 1974 because of poor venue sound quality and traveling conditions. With acoustically sound amphitheaters and good hotels at their disposal these days, they’re happy to hit the road, especially since, Fagen says, “there are songs that we’ve never played live before.”
One place they seem to have no chance of cracking is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They’ve been eligible for induction since 1997 and have turned their subsequent rejections into a running satire on their Web site.
Fagen insists he doesn’t really care if Steely Dan gets in, but he is amused by the politics of the inductions.
“The first four or five of these awards ceremonies were fantastic and they were really weird because it was like this convention for lunatics in a hotel ballroom,” said Fagen, laughing. “You’d see amazing things there like these people would go onstage and just freak out. I remember once, one of the Beach Boys went up there and just started rambling on and on for like 40 minutes and finally they had to drag him off and it was really funny. And then they started televising it and it became just like all the other awards shows.”
In addition to the album and tour, new listeners might be converted by the Steely Dan-heavy “Me, Myself and Irene” soundtrack. “The producers (Peter and Bobby Farrelly) called us up,” said Fagen, “essentially they’re fans and they wanted some younger artists to do interpretations of some of our old songs, to use the music as an underpinning to the film.” Although Fagan has mixed opinions about the new renditions, by groups such as Ben Folds Five, the Push Stars and Brian Setzer, he singles out “Only a Fool Would Say That,” by indie rockers Ivy as his favorite.
Longtime fans who hope that this album and tour are a new beginning can take heart. Fagen said, “Chances are we’ll be writing together when the tour is over.”
Steely Dan at the Tweeter Center, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $ 67.50 and 27.50. Call (617) 931-2000.