To Steely Dan or not to Steely Dan? That is the question some Angelinos are asking themselves this month, as tickets are on sale for a rare Steely Dan concert on July 23 at the Nokia Theater. I can think of several reasons to see Steely Dan: popular and influential band from the 1970s, known for smart, acerbic lyrics, a revolving all-star team of virtuoso studio musicians, jazz chops, stellar production values, hardly ever play live, blah blah blah. But let’s face it: the real reason to see Steely Dan is that they are getting older, and one never knows how much longer they will be playing live music or will even be around. Is that good enough?
This same issue applies to other bands who made it big in the Seventies or even earlier. I remember when Ray Charles would come play Wolf Trap (outside of D.C.) every year, and every year I’d say, “I really should see this living legend because one day he’ll be dead and I will regret never seeing him.” Guess what? I never saw him, and that one day has come to pass.
But there are also good reasons not to see these bands. Nostalgia can be pathetic. The once-lean rock stars may have become bloated by years of rich food and quality alcohol and drugs. Their voices, especially their ability to hit high notes, may be shot. The bands’ original drummers are often long dead, and other founding members may have been replaced by younger unknowns due to contractual disputes. Unfortunately, ticket prices for these bands have not been frozen in time either – – they can be sky high. And the bands’ classics, as well as videos of them in their hungry heyday, are usually available for download and on YouTube.
This is a personal decision. I respect anyone who goes to the Nokia on July 23 for the live Steely Dan experience. I’m sure it will be a terrific show. But the main reason why I do not plan to see Steely Dan in concert is because, if rock and roll is about anything, it is about youth. And the things that go with youth — sex, drugs, exuberance. Especially exuberance.