My review was originally published in the Soundcheck blog on the Orange County Register Web site on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010.
Before releasing Bingo! in early July, it had been more than 15 years since Steve Miller Band had released a full-length album featuring new material.
In a year when a number of notable artists have issued blues-centered material, the group’s new disc may lack the out-of-the-box surprise of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mojo or the wow factor of John Mellencamp’s No Better Than This and Cyndi Lauper’s Memphis Blues. But there is no doubt the aptly titled Bingo! is one of the finest albums of Miller’s long career and a winning celebration of American blues.
As headliners for Jack’s 5th Show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Saturday (Sept. 18, 2010), Miller and his trusty supporting quartet played winning selections from that new disc — and managed to offer his biggest hits from the ’70s and ’80s as if they were fresh.
From start to finish, Miller’s 19-song set was all about the blues, from his kickoff track “Jet Airliner” (for which he provided a smoking solo before adding his distinctive vocals) to an especially strong version of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” (with Miller displaying his stylish skills on slide guitar).
Indeed, there are few classic-rock power hitters as rooted in the blues, and one cut in particular, “Hey Yeah,” gave Miller, who will be 67 next month, a chance to revisit his early psychedelic blues beginnings, as he played his sunburst Gibson Les Paul while working a wah-wah pedal to add fire to the Texas blues tune.
Other highlights in Miller’s long and involving set were the swamp-rock version of the Lowell Fulson-Jimmy McCracklin gem “Tramp” (with Sonny Charles ably handling lead vocals) and his own “Serenade,” the latter giving off chills with its otherworldly sonic textures.
As evidenced by Steve Miller Band’s winning show at Honda Center back in February, the troupe seems to have renewed purpose following the passing of longtime member and harmonica great Norton Buffalo, who died following a battle with lung cancer in October 2009.
Miller also has been particularly involved in assisting children and teens who are interested in music; the night before, the group played a benefit show for that very cause at the Fender Center in Corona. Throughout the last part of the band’s set at Verizon, Miller had 15-year-old guitarist Dylan Brown of nearby Corona share the stage with him to showcase his emerging fretwork, notably during a great version of “Fly Like an Eagle.” Read my pal George Paul's comprehensive report of Steve Miller's special appearance on Friday night (Sept. 17) at the Fender Center to benefit the Kids Rock Free program.
But Miller’s generous spirit seemed to know few bounds, as he even let Vanilla Ice join the band to add some backing vocals at the end of the night.
Although the near-capacity crowd at this fifth annual Jack FM bash didn’t seem to necessarily care about music first — I can’t recall this much senseless chatter and beer runs since a Hootie & the Blowfish concert a few years back at the OC Fair — that didn’t mean the lineup of rockers and rappers wasn’t serious.
The Cult performed an ear-shattering 45-minute set as if they were an up-and-coming outfit, the quintet proving that blending the sonic crunch of AC/DC and the mysticism of the Doors works as well today as it did in the mid-’80s. With singer Ian Astbury and masterful lead guitarist Billy Duffy at the helm, the band gathered more steam with each passing second. By the time they closed with a rousing version of “She Sells Sanctuary” and blazing takes on “Wild Flower” and “Love Removal Machine,” seemingly everybody in the venue was on their feet and rocking out.
Even if Jack’s 5th Show had only featured Miller and that band plus a bunch of one-hit wonders, it may have still pleased the crowd. But thankfully the Fixx was also on the bill.
The talented but sadly under-appreciated British band came armed with a full set of great stuff. Given that this outfit still boasts four original members — frontman Cy Curnin, lead guitarist Jamie West-Oram, keyboardist Rupert Greenall and drummer Adam Woods — what wasn’t there to love about seeing a band that has been at it since 1980 and is still firing on all cylinders?
From the timeless “Saved by Zero” and “Red Skies” (bookends for the band’s 10-song set) to the confessional “Are We Ourselves,” the group’s music came across considerably less dated than many acts on the bill. The highlight was a blistering “Driven Out,” a song whose environmental-minded lyrics sound as if they were penned in 2010, not 1988.
Since there was little doubt that Jack’s 5th Show was mostly about throwing an end-of-summer party, the other bands found that the audience perked up mostly when a) they knew the songs and b) they could scream and sing and join in the fun. So the glam-rock group Sweet, whose lineup features only one original member (bassist Steve Priest), kicked things off before a largely empty venue at 4 p.m. and naturally had its best success via hits like “Fox on the Run,” “Love Is Like Oxygen,” “Little Willy" and “Ballroom Blitz.”
The casual attention span of attendees most impacted New Wave act Modern English, which offered up a bright set of original material that went mostly unnoticed. That changed, of course, when the band played a rousing version of its 1982 smash “I Melt with You.” Original members Robbie Grey on vocals, Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar) and Stephen Walker (keyboards) sounded great throughout, leading the English band through other solid material like “Ink and Paper” and “Hands across the Sea.” The group also played several new songs from its recently issued album Soundtrack, including the infectious “It’s OK.”
Fans of ’80s hard rock also were rewarded with songs to party by at Verizon, though Night Ranger clearly outdistanced the formula approach of Skid Row. Although Sebastian Bach is no longer part of the latter band, that alone isn’t what left this writer disappointed; it was more the style itself that was off-putting. But there were plenty others who didn’t run off to get drinks and eats that loved the stuff, especially power ballads like “I Remember You” and “18 and Life.”
Night Ranger, led by energetic singer-bassist Jack Blades and singer-drummer Kelly Keagy, was all about good times and big hits. Rockers like “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and the immortal “Sister Christian” pleased fans, while ’90s converts got faithful versions of Damn Yankees’ “Coming of Age” and “High Enough.” Guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra (top) served up plenty of impressive fretwork, notably when they unleashed Thin Lizzy-style solos together.
And befitting Jack FM’s eclectic mix, the roster included several old-school hip-hop cameos. Vanilla Ice made the bigger splash, bringing several dozen attractive ladies on stage as he delivered a crowd-pleasing “Ice Ice Baby.” Young MC’s brief stint, however, was plagued by a bass-heavy mix, though he overcame that to get the crowd dancing to his 1989 hit “Bust a Move.”