Watch Rare Videos Showing Steely Dan Performing Live During the Early 1970s

The band per­form­ing in the video above is Steely Dan. Yet it does­n’t sound quite like Steely Dan, an impres­sion par­tial­ly explained by it being a live show rather than the kind of per­fec­tion­ist stu­dio record­ings for whose metic­u­lous con­struc­tion (and repeat­ed recon­struc­tion) the group’s very name has long been a byword. But its found­ing mas­ter­minds Wal­ter Beck­er and Don­ald Fagen had­n’t yet set­tled into that com­plex­ly pris­tine aes­thet­ic at the time of this appear­ance, which aired fifty years ago next week on The Mid­night Spe­cial. Back then, hav­ing put out only their first cou­ple of albums, they could still present their project as a rel­a­tive­ly con­ven­tion­al ear­ly-sev­en­ties rock band.

It helped that they had a rel­a­tive­ly con­ven­tion­al front­man in singer David Palmer, who han­dles lead vocals on their Mid­night Spe­cial per­for­mance of “Do It Again,” Steely Dan’s first hit. That he did­n’t do so on the stu­dio record­ing under­scores that the band is gen­uine­ly play­ing live, not mim­ing to a back­ing track, as was stan­dard prac­tice on oth­er music shows.

It also con­sti­tutes anoth­er rea­son this ver­sion sounds “off” to a seri­ous Dan­fan, but it would take a tru­ly blink­ered purism (a con­di­tion wide­spread among the ranks of Dan­fans, admit­ted­ly) not to appre­ci­ate this per­for­mance, espe­cial­ly when it gets around to the solo by the band’s orig­i­nal gui­tarist Den­ny Dias — anoth­er of which comes along in “Reel­in’ in the Years,” played in the video just above.

Not that one gui­tarist could suf­fice for Steely Dan, even in this ear­ly line­up: they also had Jeff “Skunk” Bax­ter, now regard­ed as one of the finest stu­dio play­ers in the sub­genre of “yacht rock.” Bax­ter appears promi­nent­ly in their live ren­di­tion of “Show Biz Kids,” albeit as just one ele­ment of the full stage nec­es­sary to repro­duce that song live. Unlike “Do It Again” and “Reel­in’ in the Years,” two sin­gles from Steely Dan’s album Can’t Buy a Thrill, “Show Biz Kids” comes from their then-new­ly released fol­low-up Count­down to Ecsta­sy, which offered a rich­er real­iza­tion of both Steely Dan’s dis­tinc­tive sound and even more dis­tinc­tive world­view. To the refine­ment of that sound and world­view Beck­er and Fagen would devote them­selves less than a year after their Mid­night Spe­cial broad­cast, when they quit live per­for­mance entire­ly for the com­forts and rig­ors of their nat­ur­al habi­tat: the record­ing stu­dio.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Decon­struct­ing Steely Dan: The Band That Was More Than Just a Band

How Steely Dan Wrote “Dea­con Blues,” the Song Audio­philes Use to Test High-End Stere­os

Steely Dan Cre­ates the Deadhead/Danfan Con­ver­sion Chart: A Wit­ty Guide Explain­ing How You Can Go From Lov­ing the Dead to Idol­iz­ing Steely Dan

How Steely Dan Went Through Sev­en Gui­tarists and Dozens of Hours of Tape to Get the Per­fect Gui­tar Solo on “Peg”

Watch David Bowie’s Final Per­for­mance as Zig­gy Star­dust, Singing “I Got You Babe” with Mar­i­anne Faith­full, on The Mid­night Spe­cial (1973)

Chuck Berry & the Bee Gees Per­form Togeth­er in 1973: An Unex­pect­ed Video from The Mid­night Spe­cial Archive

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Eped says:

    I remem­ber watch­ing this when it first aired. Nev­er real­ly paid atten­tion to the mem­ber’s names. In lat­er years when­ev­er I saw pic­tures of the band, I always won­dered why their faces did­n’t look like the singer that I remem­bered. This final­ly explains it.

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