The Donald

What’s the old adage? “Good things come to those who wait.” Perhaps it’s true. I finally got to see Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers. It was a great crowd for Wednesday night, August 16, at the Atlanta Symphony Hall. It marks the first time I’ve ever seen a proper Donald Fagen “solo” performance. It was also the first time I’ve ever seen Don or Dan or the Dukes indoors. I just can’t describe how fabulous it was. For months, I had wondered how this young band would sound. I was thrilled. Top notch musicians all. But would you expect The Donald to surround himself with anything less? Of course I heard songs from Donald’s solo catalog that I had never heard live before. (Though there are a few recordings from his 2006 tour floating about — just saying.) But the band also provided fresh takes on classic Dan tunes and some cool covers as well. How did this band differ from Steely Dan touring bands of recent years? Well they are younger, perhaps less experienced, but perhaps more energetic, and perhaps more in awe of The Donald. The mix was different. There was only one horn, a sax played by Zach Djanikian, but even then not full time.  Zach is a multi-instrumentalist who also plays guitar — and cowbell. 🙂 The keys were more prominent, both Donald’s Fender Rhodes and the multitude of keyboards surrounding Will Bryant. Bryant is brilliant.® There were no Danettes; backing vocals were shared by everyone. The band seemed genuinely thrilled to be with Donald, and Donald, in turn, was very animated, no doubt drawing energy from the youngsters.

The solo material focused primarily on Donald’s 1982 classic The Nightly. They are billed as the Nightflyers after all. They opened with “Green Flower Street,” followed up with “New Frontier,” and they were off and rolling.

It’s just a dugout that my Dad built

In case the Reds decide to push the button down

God, how I love it. 🙂 Before the night was done, they gave us “The Nightfly” and “IGY” as well. They offered a loose and uber-funky rendition of “Countermoon” from Kamakiriad (1993) that rivaled the studio version. “I’m Not the Same Without You” was the sole tune from Donald’s most recent Sunken Condos (2012).

The Steely Dan material was no less fascinating. In some cases, the band was perhaps truer to the studio versions than Dan tours of recent years. Was it fear or reverence? Is there a difference? One big reason: male backup vocals. Connor Kennedy on “Dirty Work” harkened back to David Palmer. And there were echoes of Michael McDonald on “Kid Charlemagne” and “Peg,” perhaps even more so than in 2006, when Mike himself toured with Dan — The Steelyard “Sugartooth” McDan and the Tour. 🙂 During the performance of “Reelin’,” the encore, I heard both guitar parts, Connor Kennedy taking Elliot Randall’s lead and Zach Djanikian taking Jeff Baxter’s harmonies. I don’t recall ever hearing that before. There were shadows of both studio versions of “FM,” the one with the Pete Christlieb’s sax outro, and the one with Walter Becker’s guitar outro — but simultaneously — with Kennedy on guitar and Djanikian on sax. Still at other times, they made no attempt to duplicate the studio versions.  The best example of this was perhaps Kennedy’s guitar solo on “Kid Charlemagne” which was neither Larry Carlton nor Jon Herington, but which was no less thrilling. Kennedy’s guitar on “Black Friday” and “Third World Man” were also highlights. The instrumental “Twin Peaks Theme” was used as an extended intro to “Third World Man.” How crazy cool is that? Just superb.

What else? They did a cover of the Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” which was probably better than the Dukes version, at least as far as I can remember — credit Bryant on keys again, and Djanikian on guitar with the “wah-wah” effect on max. The band also covered The Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead,” a rockabilly-ish tune from A Hard Day’s Night. Yes, I’ve lived long enough to hear The Donald cover The Beatles live. I did miss Walter, especially during the performance of “Hey Nineteen.” His banter over the band introductions has become something of a tradition at Dan shows. Perhaps I missed the Danettes a bit as well. And I definitely would have loved a few more tunes from Sunken Condos: “Good Stuff,” “Memorabilia,” “Slinky Thing.” But what’s the old adage? “Leave them wanting more.” I sure do.

Wishing Walter the best.

Walter apparently missed The Classic East & West Dan shows. It was reported that he was recovering from a medical procedure. Hopefully Walter is feeling better these days. There are rumors of a Dan tour brewing for fall including some European dates.

The Setlist:
Green Flower Street
New Frontier
Hey Nineteen
The Nightfly
Kid Charlemagne
(Band intros)
Twin Peaks Theme
Third World Man
Time Out of Mind
Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead cover)
Dirty Work (feat. Connor Kennedy)
I’m Not the Same Without You
I’ll Cry Instead (Beatles cover)
Black Friday
Reelin’ in the Years

The Band:
Donald Fagen (vocals, Fender Rhodes, melodica)
Connor Kennedy (guitars, vocals)
Lee Falco (drums, vocals)
Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals)
Will Bryant (B3, synth, Rhodes, vocals)
Zach Djanikian (tenor sax, guitars, vocals, cowbell)

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