Rick McGrath

Two Against Nature DVD

Directed By Earle Sebastian
Produced By Joel Hinman
Shot at Sony Music Studios, New York

Recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1
102 Minutes

Donald Fagen: Piano, keyboards, vocals
Walter Becker: Guitar

««« 2VN CD review

Ojo says:

Ajo's rating

The Two Against Nature DVD, subtitled “Plush TV jazz-rock party in sensuous surround sound” gives you an idea of the Dolby 5.1 sound quality, but not the action. What you see is a special gig in New York with maybe 50 people in a Sony sound stage set up specifically to film and record the concert.

The DVD contains five songs from 2vN -- Cousin Dupree, Janie Runaway, Gaslighting Abbie, Jack Of Speed and What A Shame About Me -- with nine greatest hits stalwarts to round out the mix: Green Earrings, Bad Sneakers, Josie, FM, Black Friday, Babylon Sisters, Kid Charlemagne, Peg and Pretzel Logic. I coulda suggested a few others, but can’t complain.

Steely Dan: DVDStylistically, the boys have tried to make this more than the usual concert video. They bracket the songs with reality bites of the concert event itself. Snappy handheld digicam shots are everywhere, starting with interviews with the lucky few waiting to get into the hall. These Dan Fans relate their first experiences with the band, and a lot of it is pretty funny. Sample: “The first Steely Dan I heard was Hey Nineteen. I was sixteen. I didn’t get it”. The concert songs are interspersed with “real” interviews with Becker & Fagan, who do their best John Lennon impersonations in the witty comeback dept. Sample: Interviewer - “why don’t more groups have humour in their songs?” Fagan - “maybe they don’t have a sense of humour”. In another set, the two of them set up a cheesy tv studio and use it to introduce and generally harass members of their band. An interesting exchange happens with the guy who runs their fanzine and a New York club that specializes in Steely Dan songs. (really!) He hires lots of SD’s ex-session players, and Becker is fixated on finding out how many of these guys hate him and Fagan, and why they hate ’em, etc. Turns out they feel they weren’t hired again because Becker/Fagan didn’t like their chops. “Oh, then that’s OK”, burbles Becker.

The gorgeous background singers are filmed doing little talkie things about the boys, as do members of the band, all of whom are either heavy-duty jazz musicians or have extra-long CVs with name brand acts. It’s done verité style, with little artifice, and often with bad sound, despite the boom mike’s mantis-like presence in all the interview scenes.

Musically, they play the 2vN songs pretty much like on the album (same band members); it’s the old stuff that gets a Y2K polish. Ace guitarist Jon Herington gets stuck replaying some Skunk Baxter lines, but he’s super flash on the frets; the horns are crisper, jazzier; we all miss Michael McDonald on keyboards and backup vocals. We all get to sing along, tho, so it’s still fun.

The set is designed for video, so there’s an endless variety of handheld, dolly and boom passes to keep even the most speed-freaked editor happy. Hard lighting, out-of-focus shots, unusual foregrounding and closeups keep the eye happy throughout all the songs. The overall visual style of the songs is a tad on the tv advertising side of the ledger, but it’s not nutty like a lot of rock videos. And then there’s the star content: one is finally struck by the sheer wall of plain ugliness that is the older Donald Fagan. An odd-looking sharpie in his younger days, he’s decomposed into a fleshy face, grizzled beard, and ape-like fangs that Dracula would be proud to flash. Little wonder these guys decided not to tour.

And despite the general consensus that Fagan must be the funny one -- au contraire. Becker is the funnyman, the wit, the clever retort. He’s into Freud, literature, jazz, the funky stuff. Fagan fumbles around simply talking, while Becker is pretty relaxed making up compound complex sentences as he goes along.

One guesses the bottom line is DVD killed the concert star, which is OK for these guys, who rarely toured anyway. It’s a chance to check out their chops, literally and figuratively, groove to some truly complex music, bob your head, and laugh along at their amateur attempts at filling this thing out to 102 minutes.

Two Against Nature. I think they won.

««« 2VN CD

© Rick "Ojo" McGrath August/2000


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