As the songs says, Steely Dan is back to “Do It Again” — with Michael McDonald for the first time since 1977.
Before he became the latterday voice of the
Doobie Brothers (“Takin’ it to the Streets,” “Minute By Minute,” “What a Fool Believes”) and a Motown-covering solo artist, McDonald was part of Steely Dan’s extended corps of musicians, appearing on the ’70s albums “Katy Lied,” “The Royal Scam” and “Aja” and playing on some of its rare live dates.
This year, McDonald is on the road with them again, playing his own set and then joining Steely Dan for about half of its performance.
“We have a lot of common ground in the blues, jazz/blues, funk, soul, rock ’n’ roll tradition,” says Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, who began writing songs with Donald Fagen while they were attending Bard College in the late ’60s and formed the group in 1972 in Los Angeles. “I don’t know if Mike sits around at home listening to field recordings of pygmy music like I do, but there’s a large area of overlap, especially in terms of the stuff we’ve actually written and done, I think. It’s such a natural collaboration.”
McDonald, meanwhile, credits Becker and Fagen — who turned Steely Dan into an active concern again in 1993, after a 12-year hiatus — with helping him expand his own artistry.
“Most of my musical education was just really the radio,” says McDonald, 54, a St. Louis native who’s had recent success with a pair of Motown cover albums. “I wasn’t much of a jazz listener growing up or anything. To me, real sophisticated records were, like, the Motown records and things compared to ... the Kinks or something.
“It wasn’t really until I joined Steely Dan that I became aware of a lot of the music those guys listened to and a lot of the infl uences on the band. It was, of course, very interesting to me how they evolved further with those infl uences.”
The Steely Dan-McDonald reunion isn’t likely to evolve into more recording, however. McDonald notes that he’s “recording all the time” but isn’t sure what his next project will be, though he’s considering a third Motown set. Fagen, 59, put out a solo album, “Morph the Cat,” earlier this year, and Becker, 56, is working on his second, which he hopes to put out in 2007. That means that the next Steely Dan release “is in any far-fl ung future.”
But that doesn’t make the current tour just an oldies show, he adds.
“We’re definitely in the anti-nostalgic camp,” Becker explains. “If we don’t feel a tune that we’re playing feels fresh to us, if it feels like we’re re-creating something rather than creating something, we won’t do it.
“When we’re on stage, it’s the band and the musicians, and the way it sounds and feels is a the way it sounds and feels is a real musical event that’s happening for the first time before your very eyes. This summer in particular, we’re trying to condense the set down into a maximum, highimpact, slamming type of deal that will completely banish any talk of nostalgia.”
Steely Dan and Michael McDonald perform at 7 p.m. Saturday (September 2nd) at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road north of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $65 pavilion, $23 lawn; children under 12 receive a free lawn ticket when accompanied b
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