Sept. 24: Steely Dan

By Michael Senft
The Arizona Republic

Twenty-two years ago, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen dissolved Steely Dan, the band they had taken to stardom with such albums as “Pretzel Logic,” “Katy Lied” and “Aja,” despite a lack of concert performances.

Ten years ago the pair reunited, and spent most of the ’90s on summer shed tours, finally performing their dense, jazzy music.

The Dan returned to record racks in 2000 with the hit album “Two Against Nature,” which won several Grammy awards. The duo’s newest offering, “Everything Must Go,” reached stores in June. The band’s tour stops at the Dodge Theatre on Wednesday.

The Republic recently spoke to Fagen and Becker while they were holed up in New York City after a pair of shows. Throughout the interview, the pair, who met at Bard College in upstate New York in 1967, sounded like a married couple — finishing each other’s sentences and occasionally bickering. But a deep love and respect for each other shined through their occasionally crabby exteriors, as well as the dry wit that infuses their lyrics.

QUESTION: “Everything Must Go” is the second album of your second coming. What is the story behind it?

BECKER: We’re trying to beat the reaper.

FAGEN: And we just barely did.

BECKER: It’s getting to where we can’t waste time any more.

FAGEN: Yeah, we have to get our affairs in order for the inevitable.

Q: After the hoopla surrounding “Two Against Nature,” “Everything Must Go” seems to have been ignored. What do you think is responsible for the lukewarm response?

BECKER: “Two Against Nature” had a great promotional handle behind it that wasn’t quite true. But there was enough history that we were able to make a story out of the release.

FAGEN: The “20 years after” story. But your second album after 20 years doesn’t have quite the drama of the first one.

BECKER: Also, we’re so old now. It’s like Return of the Living Dead Part III to the people buying records.

FAGEN: Plus, the music business is going down like a (expletive) atomic submarine.

Q: You won four Grammys in 2001 and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year. What was your reaction to all the accolades?

FAGEN: Shock and awe?

BECKER: Schlock and awe. But I have to say we’re willing to let our names be lent to any enterprise that will further aggrandize us and let us perform around the country, no matter how dubious that enterprise is.

FAGEN: It also helps sustain our lifestyles.

Q: After a rotating cast of musicians on previous tours, it seems like your backup band has stabilized a bit.

FAGEN: Well, we do like playing God — hiring people and firing them at will.

BECKER: Seriously though, we’ve been refining the band over the past 10 years, finding what works and what doesn’t. The sound has evolved and we’ve just about got it right now. We’ve got a real kick-ass horn section now that’s brought it to the next level of perfection.

Q: Walter, you sang lead vocals on “Slang of Liars” (Editor’s Note: Actually “Slang of Ages”) on the new album and you are taking the mike on “Haitian Divorce” for this tour. What prompted you to step up to the mike?

BECKER: Senility.

Q: With Walter now singing, how have your roles changed in the band?

FAGEN: I usually bring a loaf of bread and some gruyere cheese now.

BECKER: I bring a bottle of red wine.

FAGEN: You used to bring a couple of canisters of nitrous oxide.

BECKER: There are certain aspects in which our personalities have never matured.

FAGEN: There’s a joke about that. A child goes to his mom and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a professional musician.” And Mom says, “Well, Jimmy, you can’t do both.”

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