“First Steely Dan underground.”
From a review: “Were it not for the lousy sound quality, 1974’s “Rotoscope Down (Pleasantly Retired Behind the Curtain)” would be the classic live Dan set … Unfortunately the sound is simply hideous, suffering from severe distortion and post-production efforts to clean it up that seemingly made it even worse. Even with those technical limitations for anyone who thinks of these guys as nothing but a perfectionist studio entity, these nine tracks should come as a revelation in terms of what a great live band the Dan were (at least back in the mid-1970s when the line up featured Becker, Fagen, Jeff Skunk Baxer, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Royce Jones (replacing David Palmer)). Recorded before what sounded like a small crowd at L.A.’s Record Plant, the band rolled through a mixture of tracks from their first two albums and a couple of selections from the forthcoming “Katy Lied”. Elsewhere the album included two rarities – ‘untitled instrumental’ which was later reworked into ‘Your Gold Teeth II’ and the surprisingly good ‘Mobile Heart’ (which I’ve also seen listed as ‘Home’ and ‘This All Too Mobile Heart’).
– The album started out on a high note with a toughened-up version of ‘The Boston Rag’. Kudos to Baxter and Dias for the biting guitars and Hodder’s frantic drums. Literally kicks the studio version in the teeth.
– ‘Do It Again’ lacked the studio version’s polish and Fagan’s vocals were a bit rushed, but the song benefited from a harder rock edge – notably another extended killer guitar solo from Baxter.
– I’m guessing that Royce Jones was handling the vocals on this breezy version of ‘Any Major Dude Will Tell You’ – technically he certainly had a better voice than Fagan, but then you’re not a Dan fan because of Fagan’s voice.
– ‘King of the World’ was another track that benefited from having the live arrangement kick the tempo up a notch over the studio version. Love the cheesy synthesizer and Baxter’s jazzy licks towards the end.
– It took a minute to come around to the instantly recognizable melody, but once there they played this one pretty close to the studio version. Why mess with top-40 success?
– Overlooking about 30 seconds of needless noodling, side 2 started with a nice ‘Pretzel Logic’. Again, the live version was very close to the studio version with Jones turning in his best Michael McDonald impression.
– ‘Untitled Instrumental’ was a decent enough jazz-rock effort, serving as a platform for Baxter and Dias to showcase their chops.
– Unlike most of these tracks, ‘Reelin’ In the Years’ didn’t benefit from the live setting. Speeding it up was a mistake (Jones sounding like a chipmunk) and the harmony vocals were pretty weak with the additional guitar work coming off as frivilous.
– For some reason ‘Mobile Heart’ never appeared anywhere else, which was unfortunate given it had a pounding beat and first-rate melody. Would have sounded good on any one of the first three studio sets.
– And finally ‘Bodhisattva’ was another effort that improved with a tougher rock sound.
“Rotoscope Down (Pleasantly Retired Behind the Curtain)” track listing:
1.) The Boston Rag (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 6:20
2.) Do It Again (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 7:40
3.) Any Major Dude Will Tell You (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 5:06
4.) King of the World (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 5:06
5.) Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 4:03
1.) Pretzel Logic (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 6:45
2.) untitled instrumental (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 5:33
3.) Reelin’ In the Years (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 4:15
4.) Mobile Heart (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 4:35
5.) Bodhisattva (Donald Fagan – Walter Becker) – 4:20