Review: Steely Dan and Donald Fagen Live Releases Stick Closely To Their Studio Counterparts

Steely Dan
Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live

Donald Fagen
The Nightfly Live

(UMe)
Both 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

It’s cash grab time.

Neither of these two live releases, one from a post-Walter Becker Steely Dan and the other capturing frontman Don Fagen running through his 1982 debut solo offering The Nightfly, both recorded live from years that are oddly not mentioned, deliver anything unusual.

That shouldn’t come as a shock since the acts were so finicky about their studio sound that when it came to reproducing these songs live, everything was set in stone. So you’re not going to get some unique jammy version of SD classics like “Reelin’ in the Years” or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” when these tunes roll out in concert versions that don’t differ markedly from the originals.

Or at least not for most listeners to notice or care about other than Donald Fagen’s clearly deteriorating vocals, helpfully bolstered by a soulful quartet of backing singers. Even though the players have changed from those who initially recorded the songs, the solos and arrangements remain essentially the same, or close enough to the ones tattooed in every boomer’s brain cells for any differences to be negligible.

In the case of Dan, the live performances are sometimes inferior (did we really need a drum solo closing “Reelin’ in the Years”?) and never improved even if there is a bit more oomph to some of the playing. Those who remember the band’s previous 1995 concert release will notice that half of these dozen tracks already appeared there, only with Becker in attendance. The majority of selections on this rather short, hour-long compilation (surely they played longer than that) of different dates, presumably from the same tour, features material from SD’s creative initial run of 1972-’80 with only one song (“Things I Miss the Most”) from the two follow-up/reformation projects in the early ’00s.

 

But at least the Dan live compilation picks and chooses from a variety of albums. No such luck for the inauspiciously titled The Nightfly Live as Fagen reprises his first post-Dan project, in order and perhaps not surprisingly with the same musicians used on the Steely Dan tracks. What you see is what you get once again as these recreations so closely replicate the studio recordings as to wonder why anyone felt this was a worthwhile idea. Although the songs form a concept wrapped around Fagen’s world as he experienced it growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, at just 40 minutes, it’s even shorter than the Dan show. Why they couldn’t have added other non-Nightfly live Fagen material to provide additional bang for the buck is unclear.

But providing good value isn’t the driving concept behind either of these quickie releases. The recording quality is, as expected, pristine, yet the packaging is minimal with no liner notes, artist input, or interesting pictures. Both are only available separately instead of a more reasonably priced double package.

Only rabid Dan/Fagen fans need apply. Everyone else should hang onto their money and spin the still timeless and definitive original recordings.   

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