Donald Fagen Played ACL Live and Keeps Steely Dan Alive

Fagen is nothing short of legendary. As one of the two founders of the group Steely Dan in the ’60s, along with Walter Becker (who ironically passed the next day-read his touching tribute below) created a new sound some called jazz-rock. Fagen was on keyboards and vocals plus other fun instruments, Becker on guitar. Wikipedia says ‘Whimsical, often sarcastic lyricists, having written final-4497“cerebral, wry and eccentric” songs about recreational drugs, love affairs, gambling, and crime. Blending elements of jazzR&B, traditional pop, and sophisticated studio production with ironic and cryptic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Rolling Stone has called them “the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies” (Wikipedia). Read this interesting article that details the Steely Dan sound and music.

final-4308See our full photo gallery on Austin 101 Magazine

Some of the Grammy-winning duo’s most notable songs include “Rikki Don’t Lose My Number’, “Hey Nineteen”, “Peg”, “Do It Again”,”Reelin’ in the Years”, and “My Old School”. Known for clever and fun lyrics, the Steely Dan dictionary was created to help educate confused fans.

walterCredit: Donald Fagen facebook

‘The two grew up as disaffected suburban youths (New York and New Jersey), going to school in the daytime and listening to the music of their idols Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane at night. They both feel an affinity with the “Jazz Life.” The two met at Bard College and found they shared the same interests in music and ironic senses of humor. A partnership is born” (Steelydan.com).  More info about their history here . After years away from creating and touring, in 2000 Steely Dan released a new album, Two Against Nature, which won four Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year. Becker and Fagen were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame the next year. Until recently, Becker was still on tour with Fagen.

The jazz influence is evident in most of Steely and Donald Fagens’ songs as is his childhood interest in science fiction. Watch Fagen’s acclaimed ‘New Frontier’ music video.

18056305_1609056209124771_2675114188142868018_oDonald brought his new band The Nightflyers (named after his first solo album Nightfly) to ACL Live in Austin and appeared to be a raging success. Joining Fagen (keyboard, vocals) in the all-new band –the Nightflyers- a quintet of young musicians that Donald has been working with over the past few years near his home in Woodstock, NY. The Nightflyers are Connor Kennedy (guitar, vocals), Lee Falco (drums, vocals), Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals), Will Bryant (keyboards, vocals), and Zach Djanikian (saxophone, vocals). These musicians have been performing together in haunts, joints, dives, and even a few reputable establishments, up and down New York’s Hudson River Valley and beyond. They played a nice mix of Steely songs plus Fagen’s solo songs. During several songs in the middle part of the set, we heard twinges of Sting, Randy Newman, Michael McDonald and a little Doobie Brothers. A fun surprise was the cover of The Grateful Dead’s ‘Shakedown Street’.  Fagen jammed like the good old days. The band was incredible and included great solos by the young Kennedy.

final-4586We enjoyed his warped humor and sometimes political, colorful comments during the show and his homage to blind musicians as he wore his sunglasses the whole time and swayed and rocked like no other. Except for a few times standing to play the melodica and jam with Kennedy, he mostly hung out at his keyboard. His wit and intelligence have been steadfast throughout his career and evident in his, and the duos’, songwriting and onstage persona. See the full setlist -which hardly included-and couldn’t- all the amazing songs Setlist.fm

What a strange week it was. The huge Hurricane Harvey natural disaster in Houston (all tour stops there obviously canceled), this great show, Walter’s passing and more crazy times in the World. But Fagen brought us a moment of escape and fun- had the crowd standing, singing, and reminiscing especially to the encore. It brought us all back to the 70’s and we found ourselves emotional and longing to return to happier times (although much of that history seems to be repeating itself today- politics, war and fights for equality).

For nearing 70, he’s rockin’ pretty well and vows to keep Steely Dan music alive as long as he can. The tour is a must see, maybe even more so now with Beckers passing, and was set to conclude in these locations (not sure if more are postponed):

9/12 – Portland, OR, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
9/13 – Seattle, WA, The Paramount
9/15 – Saratoga, CA, Mountain Winery
9/16 – San Francisco, CA, Masonic
9/23-24 – Yokohama, Japan, Yokohama Blue Note Jazz Fest
The duo was set to perform with other music legends at these Classic Festivals and presumably will be attended by Fagen.

On Walter Becker:

Walter died at his home the day after this show. Austin was lucky we got to see this show, since the tour got canceled in San Antonio. Donald continues to write touching posts on his facebook page and many musicians continue posting on social media:“I was once in a band that played only Steely Dan songs,” Jason Isbell posted. “It was hard and lots of fun.”               Read this touching tribute from his daughter Sayan on Walter’s website

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Statement from Donald Fagen

 Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.  We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues. Walter had a very rough childhood – I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter. His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock and Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band. I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.

Donald Fagen

September 3 2017

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