Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grab a Piece of Something That You Think is Gonna Last

Here's one of my all time favorite bands, doing one of my all time favorite songs.

There's a lot going on under the surface of this video. This marked the beginnings of Steely Dan, and by the end of the decade, the rest of the musicians would be tossed aside by the founders and lead songwriters, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, famously friends from their college days at Bard. They would be sacked in favor of session players. Ironic since lead guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and drummer Jim Keltner are a pair of very sought after session musicians themselves, and second guitarist Denny Dias was no slouch either. Then Fagen and Becker themselves would stop touring not long after, and ultimately cease to write Steely Dan music altogether for over a decade. Part of the reasoning, they claimed, was to let recording and performance technology catch up to their exacting musical standards.

I'm sure this is true to some extent, because the releases Fagen made solo were benchmarks (especially The Nightfly), and when a new Steely Dan recording finally came out, 2000's Two Against Nature, it raised the bar again and won critical acclaim. Becker and Fagen hadn't missed a beat in almost 20 years time.

But for all their uncompromising standards, Steely Dan will always be a band of the Seventies to me, and that's why this appearance on the Midnight Special (a show I was too young to appreciate, much less be allowed to stay up to watch) has so much going for it. Fagen's voice is incredible, either because of it or - more likely - despite his youth. There's more, though. In addition to their acid-hair look, the performances and showmanship of Baxter and Dias would lead one to believe that these guys are imitators of the Allman Brothers twin guitar attack style. Nothing could be further from true. In less than a couple albums' time, great guitar soloing could still be found on Steely Dan records, but this was no guitar-hero band. Far from it, Steely Dan had more in common with jazz combos in style, performance, and configuration than any other rock n' roll band of the time.

And what of their look? Their grooming standards certainly leave much to be desired, particularly Denny Dias's purple crushed velvet pants (Denny, they're not slimming by a longshot, Denny). These guys don't look too far away from the Partridge Family, but by God, they sure sound light years' distant.

1 comment:

M.Lane said...

Great post! I always loved SD too. Especially songs like Peg and FM.

I heard that even after they started recording again they didn't tour much if at all. Did I see an add recently in the NYT saying they were on tour this summer?