The Santa Monica Civic was abuzz Thursday night with the rumor that there would be an on-stage reunion of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen--the song trust of the great '70s band Steely Dan. But the promise wasn't followed up with the goods--as was the case with much else associated with the Soundcheck Rock Competition, a combination fund-raising effort (for the T. J. Martell Foundation) and Yamaha-sponsored battle of the bands.
There was an all-star jam at the end, though. An unruly aggregation that featured two members of one Steely Dan lineup--Michael McDonald and Walter Becker--and other L.A. rock/pop heavies, including Don Henley, Toto's Steve Lukather and David Paich, Charlie Sexton, Jai Winding. But Fagen was nowhere in sight. Only Bruce Hornsby & the Range--who also contributed a highly musical but disappointingly uninvolving mini-set by themselves--provided the jam with any real backbone.
Because the jam came at the end, all the thunder was stolen from the evening's rightful stars, the six finalist bands of the competition who played early in the evening. The groups (DV8 and the Ventilators from Los Angeles, the Rick Elias Band from North Hollywood, Frontline and Playmation from the Bay Area, and Northrup from Sacramento) had the zing and spontaneity that all hungry bands have. But they all dealt with the problem of marking out their own stylistic territory in markedly different ways.
The melodramatic grunge-rock of the Ventilators took the judges' top prize, but the dead-accurate heavy-metal assault of Northrup and the earnest, Springsteenian muscle-rock of the Rick Elias Band seemed much more committed and enthusiastic.