By Wayne Robbins
New York Newsday
Friday, October 25, 1991
Steely Dan Fans are cultish enough to be described as Deadheads in ties instead of tie-dye. But while the Grateful Dead is renowned as a touring band, Steely Dan' allure derives from its near pathological avoidance of the stage.
Beloved for its melodically innovative, lyrically challenging, impeccably crafted
recordings, Steely Dan had essentially stopped being a performing group in the
early 1970s. And in 1980, Steely Dan partners Donald Fagen and Walter Becker
Since then, their individual output has not been prolific.
Becker lives in Hawaii and intermittently produces other artists. Fagen, who lives in New York, recorded his last album "The Nightfly," nine years ago. He tests his notorious stage fright by performing with large ensembles of changing personnel under the rubric of the New York Rock and Soul Review. Wednesday night at the Lone Star Roadhouse in Manhattan, he was one of the expected performers on a new series hosted by his friend Libby Titus called New York Nights.
That Becker was in New York helping Fagen record a new album fueled speculation that the two might perform together at the Roadhouse -- no small event, since the two are said to have been on a stage just once since the last Steely Dan concert 17 years ago.
T'he drama built as Jimmy Vivino's Little Big Band kicked off the show, in a club in which every available inch of space was filled an hour before showtime. Fagen, playing melodica, was a sideman for a while before taking center stage to sing the Steely Dan hit "Green Earrings."
In keeping with the revue spirit, Phoebe Snow, another New York Rock and Soul regular, shook the room with a passionate, explosive version of the Memphis standard "I Can't Stand The Rain." Then it was Fagen's turn, delivering his own showstopper with Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" chord changes that give you chills, death-wish lyrics that freeze your spine.
Rick Danko of The Band continued the mood of real music for real people, singing "Stage Fright," evoking images of a Joe Cocker with less gristle and more torment.
Finally, Vivino set up the evening's dramatic moment. "Does Walter Becker want to get on-stage with us?" he asked.
T'he Dan-oids in the house shrieked, begged, implored. When Becker fmally started walking to the stage, there was pandemonium, strangers giving each other high-fives and screaming "Yes! Yes!" as Fagen, Becker and band launched into Steely Dan's "Josie."
The intense emotion of the moment overshadowed another meaningful reunion Wednesday night. Cyndi Lauper was next up on the bandstand singing her heart out on Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" and on "Money Changes Everything" from her triumphant debut album "She's So Unusual." Lauper's career has floundered since that 1983 recording, in no small part due to her estrangement from some of her co-musicians on the project, Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, who became the core of the Hooters. (Hyman and Lauper wrote the now-standard "Time After Time.")
Hyman and Bazilian were on-stage, too, on Wednesday, lending both moral and musical support to Lauper's performance. Their rapprochement with Lauper, and Fagen and Becker's reunion, gave the satisfying feeling that maybe you can go home again.
By Kevin O'Hare
Saturday, October 26, 1991
NEW YORK -- Steely Dan is back.
Briefly perhaps, but long enough so that a stunned New York crowd could witness band co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's first live run through Steely Dan material in 17 years.
The event took place Wednesday night at the Lone Star Roadhouse on West 52nd Street in New York City. It had been billed in advance under the seemingly irmocuous marquee of "Libby Titus Presents New York Nights." But for fans of the seminal '70s band, it turned into a trip into the musical stratosphere.
Similar in format to some of the New York Rock and Soul Revue
shows Fagen has been occasionally staging during the past year, the evening
featured standout performances from several other stars.
The musical lineup included Phoebe Snow, Cyndi Lauper, the Band's Rick Danko, veteran bassist Harvey Brooks and members of Philly faves the Hooters.
But the night belonged to Becker and Fagen, the quirky, reclusive duo who took a sophisticated blend of beebop jazz, offbeat lyrics and incredible pop sensibilities to the top of the charts in the '70s.
A standing room crowd of about 400 caught Wednesday's first show. Many of them were hardcore Dan devotees, who'd been tipped off to the possible reunion by a New Yorker named Pete Fogel, who runs a Steely Dan fanzine called "Metal Leg."
Following a powerhouse opening by the 13-piece band, Fagen sheepishly made his way through the crowd to the back of the stage. He added some melodica (his instrument of choice these days) flourishes to the Motown gem "Can't Get Next To You," before taking stage center and launching into a sizzling version of Steely Dan's "Green Earrings."
Snow turned in vocal showcases on "I Can't Stand The Rain," and Creedence's "Long As I Can See The Light," and then came one of the night's musical treasures -- a riveting take of "Deacon Blues," off of Steely Daif s "Aja." Fagen sang the song superbly, and the horn section built to an emotional crescendo.
It was shortly after this that Becker was seen, standing to the
side of the audience and setting off a flury of whispers among those in attendance.
At least part of the credit for the reunion goes to Fagen's current guitarist Jimmy Vivino, who played no small part in getting a seemingly hesitant Becker to take the stage.
After Danko's crisp, hom-thumping renditions of The Band's "Stage Fright," and "It Makes No Difference," Vivino grabbed the microphone.
"If Walter's out there, I'd love to invite him up," said Vivino, "just to play the solo, just to play the solo."
The crowd exploded.
After hemming and hawing a bit, the reluctant Becker took the
stage to a standing ovation. He briefly embraced Fagen, strapped on his guitar
and the band tore into the "Aja" gem "Josie."
Though Fagen and Becker have made a couple of rare joint appearances backing other musicians (including Stevie Wonder one early morning at the China Club a few years ago), this was the first time they'd been in public performing Steely Dan material since the summer of 1974.
Becker exited the stage after the song, but returned later in
the set for Steely Dan's "Chain Lightning,"and a fast and furious
"Black Friday." He briefly cracked up after the air-tight ending,
one of the few times he or Fagen broke a smile.
The show closed with a chaotic full company take of the frat house anthem "Wooly Booly," with Vivino, Snow and Lauper trading vocals. There was something supremely ironic seeing Becker and Fagen, two of the pop world's most elusive craftsmen, closing a night like this with "Wooly Booly." Sam the Sham would have loved it.
While the singers went wild up front, the two Steelys played it cool in the background. The stoic stage presence came as little surprise since the pair always were musicians much more than glamor boys. In fact, they look more like conservatively-attired chemistry professors than pop stars these days.
But don't count on the reunion to be a weekly deal. Becker is reportedly headed back to his home in Hawaii, and is likely to maintain his low-key lifestyle. He occasionally emerges to do some producing and is expected to play a key role in Fageif s long-anticipated second solo album, supposedly slated for 1992.
T'hey may be forever uncomfortable with the limelight and the road, but it was obvious Wednesday that there's still a stage yearning burning deep down each of them.
If anything, the show perhaps revived hope that these guys could someday make their way back for a full-blown Steely Dan tour. Nostagia? No way. One listen to the Lone Star set showed Becker and Fagen are still light years ahead of their time.
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