The world of Steely Dan is a twisted one. Although it might be obscured by technically astounding guitar solos and plaintive saxophone pieces, the band's repertoire is replete with tales of broken, profoundly damaged individuals. Whether it’s the predatory Mr. LaPage of “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” or the titular junkie in “Charlie Freak,” there is a deep and palpable desperation at the heart of the Dan’s music. The band evokes seediness and glamour in equal measure, conjuring imagery of fabulous, decadent cities and the pained, dysfunctional folks who occupy them.
Naturally, they’re a perfect fit for Miami’s aesthetic.
Donald Fagen, Steely Dan’s lead vocalist and keyboard player, will bring his talents to the Fillmore August 8. Rather than being accompanied by Steely Dan’s other half, Walter Becker, the singer-songwriter will instead be joined by the Nightflyers, a team of musicians with whom Fagen has been collaborating for the past several years. The band — named for Fagen’s first solo record, 1982’s The Nightfly — will assist the artist in performing material from both Steely Dan and his solo career.
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Even without Becker or the promise of a new record to promote, any chance to catch Fagen in action is one worth taking. Though it doesn’t command the same widespread fascination as his Steely Dan work, Fagen’s overlooked solo material often proves equally compelling. Losing none of his flair for arrangement nor his penchant for deadpan, incisive lyrics, Fagen shines on tracks in which his worldly musings are most palpably felt. Consider the skeptical mid-20th-century optimism of “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” or the post-9/11 apocalypse depicted in “The Great Pagoda of Funn.”
More than anything, it’s this tension between beautiful instrumentation and sometimes-petty songwriting that has set Fagen apart from his musical peers. For a man so deeply associated with the soothing and inoffensive sound of adult contemporary, Fagen’s career has been marked by transgression and perpetual, unshakable snark. In many ways, Fagen is the quintessential ur-hipster, a fact acknowledged by the title of his quasi-autobiography and collection of critical essays, Eminent Hipsters. Even before Steely Dan became the band that would produce its best-selling album Aja and be the subject of the best dialogue in Knocked Up, Fagen was preemptively taking the piss out of his own prospective career on the anthemically vulgar “Show Biz Kids.” And despite his own dalliances with psychedelics, to say nothing of Steely Dan’s moving tribute to LSD chemist Owsley Stanley on “Kid Charlemagne,” Fagen’s disdain for all things hippie-related is well documented. Fagen’s chronic detachment has and forever shall make him cooler than his listeners and contemporaries, and in light of his gifting the world with the epically hip likes of The Royal Scam and Katy Lied, pity the person who tries to argue the point.
But contrarian rhetorical positions and snotty attitude can get you only so far. When it comes to inspiring fan devotion, it is, as it ever shall be, all about the music. Fagen showed off his musical aptitude in early July when he and a backing band took to the Dodger Stadium stage as Steely Dan sans Becker. Having come down with an undisclosed illness prior to the show, Becker left Fagen and crew in charge of preserving the Dan’s live legacy. Even with a missing tooth and an MIA creative partner, Fagen and friends, by all accounts, made good on the promise of a Steely Dan concert, playing a respectable cross section of the band’s discography.
When he performs at the Fillmore August 8, there’s no reason to expect anything less than the same professionalism and effortless cool that has defined Fagen thus far. And with the help of the Cuervo Gold and the fine Colombian, Miamians will likely have no problem returning the favor.
Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers. 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 8, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 800-745-3000; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $49.50 to $198.00 via livenation.com.