Chart-toppers from bygone eras teaming up for nostalgia shows at the big-shed summer venues: This has been a model of success for years and years, a way to tap not just a band’s legacy but an era’s. So what it is about this one that surprises me? I guess it is the thought of Steely Dan playing nice with any of their era peers and ever agreeing to period branding such as this. I suppose what made it go down smooth, other than nature’s greatest lubricant (money), is that the Dan’s billmate for the show-in-question is the Doobie Brothers, with whom Steely Dan shared at least on important member – the great guitarist and defense consultant Jeff “Skunk” Baxter – as well a portion of Michael McDonald.
There are two hitmaking Steely Dans: the almost-stable, almost-rock band that made their first few albums (with hits like “Reelin’ in the Years” and “My Old School”), and then the Hall of Fame of Sessionsconglomerate that Donald and Walter summoned to make the highwater-mark jazz/rock of their late-original-period records: The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho. These records remain, in commercial music programs the world over, rock’s pinnacle moment of musical sophistication.
And there are two hitmaking Doobie Brothers as well: the Hell’s Angels house band co-fronted by Johnston and Simmons (“China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Jesus Is Just All Right”) and then, post-Johnston, the slick fusiony band that added Baxter and more famously Michael McDonald to record the most iconic yacht rock ever made: “Taking It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes” et cetera.
So, whom do we get? For the Dan, Walter Becker passed away recently, so it’s Donald and whomever. And you know they’ll all be good. But for the all-important Doobies lineup: We get both founding members, Johnston and Simmons. No Michael McDonald, but will you take Little Feat’s great keyboardist/vocalist Bill Payne instead? I know I will. No Skunk Baxter, but if you like Elvis Costello’s first record (“Allison,” “Red Shoes”), I know you will be quite pleased with the great Bay Area legend John McPhee.
Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers team up at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Saturday, July 14 at 7 p.m. Reserved ticket prices range from $67.50 to $208. A patch of lawn will set you back $40. For tickets and additional information, visit www.bethelwoodscenter.org. Bethel Woods is located at 200 Hurd Road in Bethel.