A Review of Steely Dan on PBS, 3/12/00.
Opening up with Green Earrings is a great idea. This is Steely Dan at its best. Hot hooks with demented lyrics. Following this with Cousin Dupree is like the Yin and Yang of Steely Dan. On one hand, you have the hot transitions, and on the other you have the noodle.
Bad Sneakers is just fantastic, that is until Walter Becker takes his noodling guitar break. This song may exemplify the reason why I can't listen to Steely Dan's new stuff; the hooks are now syncopated instead of being jolts of surprise. It's like the difference between Gershwin and Django. Is it the fault of the desire for horns in the chorus? Josie was one of the first songs in which I noticed this trend, and that's the next song they played. Josie had the Aja feel, but the noodle by Becker sets the tone and it's an ambiguous tone at best. For instance, on FM, why is Becker playing these predictable licks when the real guitarist is playing chords? The real guitarist in this case is John Herrington. It used to be Skunk Baxter, Denny Dias, or Larry Carlton, for the most part.
Gaslighting Abbie shows this Becker noodle/horn groove that's just driving me crazy to hear. Who writes these songs, anyway? I'll bet Fagen used to listen to Gary Katz and say, "Yeah, that's who we need playing there." Walter: "But I wanted to play that lick." Fagen: "Walter, why don't you step into the bar and get a cold drink of shut the fuck up?" (Whatever happened to that Katz connection, anyway?)
Black Friday's next. Where is Kings? Where is Dr. Wu? Only a Fool Would Say That? Any Major Dude Will Tell You? At least the real guitarist gets to play the break in Black Friday. This guy makes the notes happen; Becker lets them happen. (The other option is not knowing where the notes happen.)
Babylon Sisters. The horns here are wonderful; they play the smooth transition line and don't try to play the hook. This is some good stuff. I enjoyed this song more than I ever have before. And then, Kid Charlemagne follows. This song is a great representation of the edge which no longer exists. Look at Fagen getting off on those guitar licks! (Do you ever see him looking at Becker like that?) That's because Becker plays the existential noodle. "Find note A, put it with note B, make sure that note C happens at the right time, fill in with scales when in doubt, pause if you get confused."
Peg. Now here's a snappy horn arrangement that doesn't get in the way of the hook. Ending the show is Pingouin's favorite, Pretzel Logic. And I'll bet Hitler himself would have had the girls sing the line about, "Where DID you get those shoes?"
All in all, a very pleasant evening with PBS. I would almost take back everything I said about this network controlled by Communists, but I just can't. Tomorrow, Nina Totenberg will be telling me how I should be aghast (AGHAST, I tell you!) about racial profiling.