No one saw this coming. Certainly not back in the polarizing musical times of 1977. Rock bad-boy-in-training Elvis Costello and jazz-flouting, studio perfectionists Steely Dan (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) sharing the same tour bus.
Yet here they are playing 23 summer dates together across the country with Elvis Costello and the Imposters as special guests of Steely Dan. The tour drops on the Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday and heads to the Hollywood Bowl before trekking east.
Both acts came on the rock/pop scene during the musical ripeness of the ’70s, with Steely Dan emerging in the first half of the decade and Costello in 1977, initially as a punk new wave poster boy. Laconic hipsters Becker and Fagen were the antithesis of punk grit.
Steely Dan’s “Aja” and Costello’s “My Aim Is True,” each released in 1977, are vastly different seminal records. Steely Dan’s cool masterpiece was the band’s sixth record, while the boisterous “Aim” was Elvis’ cheeky debut.
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Their careers go in and out of favor, often achieving both popular success and critical success. The length of the careers has allowed for significant re-assessment.
What Costello has in common with Becker and Fagan is a songwriting genius sparked by literate ingenuity, broad versatile musical interests and knowledge, and deep understanding of the craft.
If Costello joins Steely Dan on the bandstand, could you see him singing “Hey Nineteen” or “Haitan Divorce”? Or perhaps Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” or “Toledo”? Perhaps they’ll split the difference with a jazz tune or R&B groover.
Here are some comparisons (and contrasts) of the two. You decide if they should be on tour together or not.
An album a year: Steely Dan’s studio production is easily categorized into a Golden Age first period that included six albums in six years (1972-77), capped by the seventh and final album of that golden period (“Gaucho”) three years later in 1980. Maybe it should be their “Platinum Age,” since all the albums went platinum except for 1973’s “Countdown to Ecstasy,” which “only” went gold.
Costello’s album a year period lasted from 1977 to 1984, with eight albums of original material and one album (“Almost Blue”) of country covers.
Output: Costello has released at least 27 studio albums you could identify as primarily his, and numerous others as a primary contributor collaborator.
Steely Dan has released 10 studio albums, Fagen has released four solo albums and Becker two.
Name-checking Napoleon: The time-traveling narrator of Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” claims “I have never met Napoleon, but I plan to find the time.”
Costello has a song “Poor Napoleon” on his “Blood & Chocolate” album; he created the pseudonym/alter ego Napoleon Dynamite in 1982, used most significantly in credits for the 1986 “Blood & Chocolate” album. (Jared Hess, who co-wrote and directed the highly successful 2004 cult film “Napoleon Dynamite,” claims he found the name on his own and never knew about Elvis Costello’s pseudonym until two days before filming of his movie ended.)
Samples and covers: Steely Dan has been sampled extensively by hip-hoppers including Kanye West, De La Soul, Ice Cube and Whiz Kalifa, to name a few. The duo’s catalog requires a fairly specific point of view to take the songs away from Fagen’s signature renderings, but there have been notable attempts: “Any Major Dude,” by Wilco for the “Me, Myself & Irene” soundtrack; “Doctor Wu,” by Southern California punk legends Minute Men; “Only a Fool Would Say That,” by Brooklyn indie pop rockers Ivy; and “Show Biz Kids,” by Rickie Lee Jones.
Costello isn’t sampled as much, but his tunes are covered much more frequently (“Alison” and “Almost Blue” need their own categories). “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” (by Nick Lowe but first made popular by Costello) also deserves its own category.
With Marian McPartland: Becker and Fagen appeared on McPartland’s show in 2003. They mixed performances of favorite jazz tunes “Mood Indigo,” “Hesitating Blues” “Things Ain’t the Way They Used To Be,” with their own songs “Chain Lightning” and “Black Friday.”
Costello first appeared on McPartland’s acclaimed interview and casual performance NPR show in 2006. He sang two of his own tunes and several jazz ballad standards, with McPartland accompanying on piano along with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. Costello returned in 2010 to guest host and turn the tables interviewing McPartland, who died in 2013 at 95.
Awards: Steely Dan received The ASCAP Founder’s Award in 2000 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. “Aja” was ranked 145th on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
Costello received ASCAP’s Founder’s Award in 2003. Elvis Costello and the Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that same year. “My Aim Is True” was eventually ranked 168th on Rolling Stone’s 500 list.
Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour
- What: Steely Dan with special guests Elvis Costello and the Imposters
- When: 7 p.m. July 11
- Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre At Mountain View, 1 Amphitheatre Pkwy., Mountain View
- Information: 650-967-4040; www.livenation.com