Donald Fagen Band
The North Fork Theater
March 3, 2006
Donald Fagen is an enigma. He has managed a long, successful career, in and out of Steely Dan, while avoiding the standard recording of the album and tour cycle that so many artists have fallen into in the past thirty or so years.
Steely Dan effectively became a studio band in the mid-70's before disbanding and reuniting. The Steely Dan cycle was more of a record the album, then tour and fire the band once the tour ended type of cycle. The fact was that Steely Dan went even further. After the tour they would hire a new band, record the album fire the band, hire amazing studio musicians and record another album. At one point they stopped touring for over seven years and finally disbanded. It was during this disbanded period that Fagen and his partner in crime, Walter Becker concentrated on solo projects. Steely Dan was "dormant" from 1980 through 1994. Since 1994 Becker and Fagen have gotten back together to tour with new musicians and record the occasional new studio album.
Fagen and Becker now release Steely Dan CDs sporadically and tour even more sporadically. They don't make many solo recordings either. Becker has released one (11 Tracks Of Whack). With the release of Morph The Cat, Donald Fagen has now dropped only three solo recordings. Morph comes a mere thirteen years after Kamakiriad and what seems like an eternity after The Nightfly.
Unlike Fagen's earlier studio releases, Morph The Cat is supported by a tour. On Friday, March 3rd, Fagen treated his (and Steely Dan's) loyal fans to a night that they will not soon forget. Fagen and his extremely talented nine-piece band: Jeff Young on keyboards, drummer Keith Carlock, bassist Freddie Washington, guitarists Jon Herington and Wayne Krantz, Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Walt Weiskopf on sax, Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle handling backup vocals roared through sixteen fantastic songs as well as 2 encores.
With Fagen and his keyboard front and center, the bandleader chuckled when he announced that they would "be playing songs from my three bold albums and some stuff from Steely Dan." The band then began the show by launching into "Here At The Western World." Over the next two plus hours, the faithful were not only treated to Steely Dan songs ("Black Cow" and "Third World Man"), Fagen's solo staples (the hopeful "I.G.Y.," "The Nightfly," "New Frontier," "The Goodbye Look," "Snowbound" and "Teahouse on the Tracks") and songs from his new CD as well as some very uncharacteristic and un-Fagenlike stage banter.
Fagen was obviously in a playful mood as he responded, during a lull, to a loud request for "Freebird" by cracking-up and declaring, 'Freebird,' very amusing. He then continued by saying, "You sing 'Whipping Post,' then we'll do 'Freebird.' We'll have karaoke!"
As the evening wore on, it was obvious that Fagen was actually a happy to be in the house and having a wonderful time (as were the members of the audience). Fagen bantered and talked to the audience. He joked with and mugged to the audience. The 58-year-old Fagen was exuberant, loose and funny. This was never more evident than when he was presenting the band. He referred to Washington as "Ready Freddie" and when he got to Krantz, the guitarist was introduced as, "Tuning his guitar, as always. And changing the strings on his guitar. Always a bunch of broken guitar strings around his feet ladies and gentlemen Wayne Krantz."
The jovial mood continued when a member of the band's road crew had to bring something to Freddie Washington. The gentleman hesitated, as he was about to go around Fagen. It was at this point the Fagen motioned to him to go ahead and introduced him to the crowd as "The great Skip Gildersleeve! He has such a great name and I never get to announce him...The Great Skip Gildersleeve!"
The evening's highlights included the show's opener, the reworked version of "Here At The Western World" and the bluesy encore performance of "Pretzel Logic" (featuring keyboardist Young), as well as the new songs "H Gang" (which was introduced with the statement, "This is the single, if they still have singles. What's funny is that there's a B-side too, even though you never turn anything over anymore.") and "What I Do" a mini pop masterpiece which is about a conversation with the ghost of the late Ray Charles featuring a killer solo by Herington.
Not one to ignore his influences, Fagen and friends delivered some inspired covers. Fagen introduced the first cover tune about two-thirds of the way through his set by saying that the band was going to perform an old Jack Teagarden tune, written by Charlie DeVere. Fagen then made the wry off-hand comment "yeah, you all know Charlie DeVere" and began to play "Misery and the Blues." This amazing, heartfelt song featured Michael Leonhart and Walt Weiskopf on two phenomenal solos and the gut-wrenching lyrical passage: "Blues in the mornin'/Misery in the evenin'/I wish I never met you/I'll let the devil get you." On a lighter note, the concert ended with another cover. The second encore was the upbeat Chuck Berry nugget "Viva Rock 'n' Roll."
Fagen was very into the music; at times he appeared to be channeling Ray Charles as he wore his glasses and leaned and bopped to the music behind his keyboard. This was a remarkable show. Fagen and his band delivered the songs with a musicianship that cannot be taught. It's a gift and the audience felt every bit of it as their gift was shared.