Donald Fagen & The Nightflyers Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY August 4, 2017 Story, photos, and video by Kelly D
Am I a 55-year-old man in disguise? Judging by my music choices, the answer is a resounding “yes.” I proved it once again by taking a whirlwind last-minute trip down to Port Chester, NY to catch the second night of Donald Fagen’s inaugural tour with his new band, the Nightflyers. Steely Dan is my second-favorite band of all time.
I can’t really explain why, but Fagen’s snarky lyrics and mostly deadpan, sometimes bittersweet, and always on-point delivery have a lot to do with it. I dig his solo stuff too, particularly his 1982 debut The Nightfly. Unfortunately, since I was born in 1988, I missed the boat big time on seeing the “actual band” Steely Dan live, as opposed to “Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, and a dozen of their closest musician friends” that I’ve gone to see ten times since 2009.
This show was a horse of a different color, however. I figured much of Fagen’s solo stuff would be performed, and I was pleased to discover that I was right. After a relatively painless trek down from Western MA to Port Chester, my companion and I found our seats and to my delight, we were able to stand for the entire show. As I love a lot of bands favored by an older generation, shall we say, I’m often forced to sit down and passively take in the music, when in reality I love to dance and sing along to truly enjoy a concert.
Without delay, Fagen and his troupe of performers, all natives of upstate New York who happen to be around my age, took the stage and immediately launched into “Green Flower Street” from the namesake album of Fagen’s backing band, The Nightfly. A sort of concept album based around a fictional radio DJ with autobiographical lyrics, Fagen took the smooth jazz stylings he had been exploring in Steely Dan to new heights.
The band then played “Countermoon” from Fagen’s 1993 effort Kamakiriad and “Time Out of Mind” by the Dan. At this point, there was only a handful of us still standing and/or grooving, and I was thankful.
It’s almost impossible not to at least shuffle to “Time Out of Mind,” with its funky beat and cryptic references to heroin. “New Frontier,” another driving song that cheerfully alludes to nuclear war and its immediate aftermath, came next. I was thrilled to hear all these solo Fagen pieces live for the first time.
I honestly didn’t know whether or not I’d get the chance- Donald is no spring chicken and I’m certain he’d be the first to admit it. By this point in the night, a young woman had joined us to dance. Apparently, she had been asked to sit down by the people sitting behind her, so she decided to come rock out with my companion and me. I couldn’t have been more thrilled, especially when she told me she was 21! This girl is clearly going places if she already is going to see Donald Fagen by herself, of her own accord.
Fagen then completely took me by surprise by mentioning that they were about to play something that had to do with this part of the world- and began the opening bars of the Grateful Dead’s disco jam “Shakedown Street.” Apparently, he had covered it before in previous tours but it was still pretty dang cool to hear it. (Especially since the venue proudly states on its website that Jerry Garcia himself is on record saying, “See, there’s only two theaters, man… that are set up pretty groovy all around for music and for smooth stage changes, good lighting and all that – the Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre. And those are the only two in the whole country.”)
The grooves kept on coming with a cover of “Black Friday” off of the Dan’s Katy Lied album, the title track from The Nightfly, and “Green Earrings” from The Royal Scam, a criminally underrated Steely Dan record. The band slowed down with a cover of the Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead” and I got to take some time to take in the Nightflyers. The quartet backing Donald Fagen comprises Will Bryant (keyboards, vocals), Lee Falco (drums, vocals), Connor Kennedy (guitar, vocals), and Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals).
Kennedy’s chops impressed me quite a bit- as did they all- but this whippersnapper was able to make up for the lack of Walter Becker, Fagen’s usual partner in crime, and then some. He even gamely sang “Dirty Work,” a job usually reserved for the trio of this-century’s-version-of-Steely Dan’s backup singers. “Weather in My Head,” from Fagen’s 2012 Sunken Condos, followed, and then two Steely Dan covers: “Kid Charlemagne” and “Bodhisattva.” There’s no getting around it- these songs are just FUN. “Kid Charlemagne,” in particular, has a couplet that’s as hilarious to this reviewer as it is singable: “Is there gas in the car? Yes there’s gas in the caaaar!” (The audience, heretofore relatively quiet apart from applause between each song, came alive for that one.) “Bodhisattva,” from Countdown to Ecstasy, always kills too and this night was no exception. It’s a tune that demands the listener’s entire attention, particularly when this troupe of musicians plays it.
Everyone’s showmanship was on full display. The charmingly ironic “I.G.Y” from The Nightfly rounded out the evening. It features Fagen’s lyricism at its most sardonic yet hopeful- he excels at this- describing a future from the perspective of the clean-cut naive 1950s. Written in the early 1980s and performed in 2017, STILL with the threat of nuclear war breathing down our necks, it’s hard not to see that Fagen was rather prescient in his recording of the tune.
The band left the stage at this point, but returned to play an all-too-brief encore of Chuck Berry’s “Viva Viva Rock and Roll.” Ever the crank, Fagen shot down an optimistic fan’s request of “My Old School” beforehand. “I’m sick of fuckin’ ‘My Old School’!” he might’ve bellowed; it’s hard to say. I was somewhat surprised, given that the source material for the song (Bard College), is just up the road in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Oh well, maybe next time. All in all, it was a spectacular night of great tunes and even better musicians. A special shoutout to one of my pals for alerting me that the show was happening in the first place- if the tour comes back this way for another leg, I’m definitely gonna “Do It Again” and catch them live.