Jazz-rockers offer unique trio of shows
By Sarah Rodman
The Boston Globe
While veteran acts from Van Morrison to the Pixies are increasingly taking up the novelty of playing a classic album from front to back in concert, only Steely Dan is going for the trifecta this summer. As part of its “Rent Party ’09’’ outing, the tasteful jazz-rockers with the irreverent lyrics are playing their vintage releases “Aja,’’ “Gaucho,’’ and “The Royal Scam’’ – encompassing such hits as “Peg,’’ “Hey Nineteen,’’ and “Deacon Blues’’ – in full in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on successive nights. A fourth show has been dubbed “Takin’ It to the Seats Internet Request Night.’’ Alas, the Dan booked just three dates at the Citi Wang Theatre this week, so only “Aja’’ (Wednesday), “Gaucho’’ (Friday), and the requests night (Saturday) made the cut. (To help determine the set list, you can vote at www.msg.com/steelydan).
After needling Steely Dan founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen about the absence of a night dedicated to “The Royal Scam’’ during an extremely loopy phone chat from a Florida tour stop, Becker conceded that “Aja’’ is short enough that they could do both records Wednesday. Let’s hold them to that. (Interested fans unable to make the shows are advised that music network Fuse is airing a “Rent Party’’ special at 4:30 p.m. on July 21.)
Q. What do you have against your other albums?
Fagen: You mean why aren’t we doing them all?
Q. Yes, why aren’t you coming and staying for 10 nights?
Becker: We’d be glad to do that.
Fagen: I don’t know if I agree with that. (Laughs). I think that the three that we chose, you can play those three all the way through without any major clinkers or songs that we don’t like for some particular reason. You know, the ones that I would do are our most recent two albums [“Two Against Nature’’ and “Everything Must Go’’]. I think they’re quality controlled all the way through. But I don’t think anybody would come – that’s the problem.
Q. So why do this now and why only these four cities?
Becker: These were the four cities where such a thing was possible to begin with. Our fans are highly concentrated in the most cosmopolitan areas in the continental US. So, that was apparently the consideration.
Fagen: I think our management, they chose the cities actually. We just agreed. We’re just like sheep really.
Q. Why no “Royal Scam’’ love in Boston?
Becker: Well, there was only three nights there, and apparently we had to make a guess as to what people would want to see.
Q. If I told you you guessed wrong, what would you say?
Becker: It wouldn’t be the first time.
Fagen: Management assumed that “Aja’’ and “Gaucho’’ would be the most popular, but as it turns out “The Royal Scam’’ is selling more tickets than the “Gaucho’’ nights, so how do you like that?
Becker: Only in the early voting. There’s still plenty of time for “Gaucho’’ to rewrite history.
Q. Is there a number one Internet song request so far?
Fagen: I haven’t heard any returns on that.
Becker: Hang on a second.
Q. Are you getting information right now?
Becker: I’m checking my e-mail. Let’s see.
Fagen: You have, like, a ticker tape?
Becker: I have the ticker tape machine set up at whatever the name of this hotel is. The Sandpearl. If you can fathom that.
Fagen: Where do you rent the ticker tape machine?
Becker: You get ’em down in the lobby.
Becker: All the other bands need ’em too.
Q. So you had to get up early to snag it?
Becker: Absolutely. The top vote-getter so far, you wanna guess, you who is the picker of “The Royal Scam’’?
Q. I’m going to say “Kid Charlemagne.’’
Becker: Well you’re one song off.
Fagen: What’s the first?
Becker: The number one song is “My Old School.’’
Fagen: So second is “Kid Charlemagne’’?
Becker: Right, third is “Deacon Blues.’’
Fagen: Do you think we should stop revealing the choices so it will be a surprise, or who cares?
Becker: This is just one day’s worth of votes, Donald.
Q. Back in the day, your rep was that you didn’t like to play live, partially because it sounded terrible. You’ve done quite a bit of touring in the last 10 years, so does that mean things have improved to meet your standards?
Becker: We didn’t like to play live for $3,500 a night, but we love to play live for $400,000 a night, and I don’t care who knows it.
Fagen: We didn’t like to play live for $3,500 a night and stay in hotels that were more like toilets and also with half the band being drunk.
Becker: It turns out that it’s actually fun to play music under the right circumstances. Who would’ve guessed? (Laughs)
Q. So are you all working on new music, either for Steely Dan or solo albums?
Fagen: We’re talking about it.
Becker: We have all sorts of irons in the fire.
Fagen: We have some strategies.
Q. So what you’re saying is you have nothing?
Becker: Right. Exactly right.