Steely Dan keyboardist and composer Donald Fagen is a lone wolf when it comes to hunting down inspiration — “All I need is a room and a piano and a Marlboro cigarette” — but touring with a group of guys whose average age is two decades younger than “Can’t Buy a Thrill” has him excited.
“I’d love to go into the studio with these guys. … I’m hoping to show the guys some of the new stuff I’ve been writing, and it will be fun developing that with a band,” Fagen said during a recent conference call. “Generally speaking, in recent years, the way I worked is just alone, and doing arrangements by myself and so on, or with Walter. So it will be fun, actually having a band to try this stuff out on. I don’t think I’ve done that since the early ’70s probably.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 8, Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers — a nod to his first solo album, 1982's “The Nightfly” — will perform their first show outside of his home state of New York, an 8 p.m. performance at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The band includes guitarist Connor Kennedy, keyboardist Will Bryant, drummer Lee Falco, bass player Brandon Morrison and multi-instrumentalist Zach Djanikian, musicians Fagen met while they worked random joints along New York’s Hudson River Valley near his home in Woodstock.
“They seemed to be a cut above some of the other local musicians. They had a really good feel,” Fagen said. “All the guys were accomplished, and Connor, as the soloist, is really special, I think. He’s got a lot of juice, you know, and he did some really interesting things aside from the excitement of his style of playing.”
Tempering Fagen’s enthusiasm for the tour is the status of Walter Becker, the other half of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo Steely Dan. Becker was forced to bow out of two Steely Dan performances last month during the Classic West and Classic East concerts in Los Angeles and New York due to an undisclosed illness.
"Walter's recovering from a procedure and hopefully he'll be fine very soon," Fagen said.
Fagen and the Nightflyers played a secret show near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on July 31 and a couple of tour-opening concerts down the Hudson River in Port Chester last Thursday and Friday, sets that included classic Becker-Fagen songs stretching back to Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” Among the favorites performed were “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Dirty Work,” “Bodhisattva,” “Dirty Sneakers,” “Peg,” “Kid Charlemagne” and “Hey Nineteen.”
Fagen said he’s eager to try out some of his solo work in a live setting, and sets so far have included “Green Flower Street,” “The New Frontier” and “The Nightfly.”
"The only time we actually got into those was when I was on tour with some of the guys from the Steely Dan band in 2006, I believe," Fagen said. "I did a brief tour and it was really fun 'cause they'd never been played live, ever … I remember playing 'The New Frontier' at a Steely Dan show once or twice. So they're really new to me. These [Nightflyers] guys actually have taught me the chords to a few that I forgot."
Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers perform 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave. Tickets cost $49.50-$89.50. Call 305-673-7300 or visit FillmoreMB.com.