Live review: Steve Miller, Buddy Guy, Otis Taylor keep Doheny Blues smokin’ through Day 2
The second half of the 15th annual Doheny Blues weekend (May 19-20, 2012) in Dana Point played out with a strength that gripped the first day.
The festivities began with an impressive set from singer-guitarist Ray Goren (seen on right), who at the mere age of 12 already plays his Fender like a master, and the event didn’t end until Steve Miller Band proved that the troupe’s recent creative revival continues to make its recent blues-centered shows more than a nostalgic romp. In between came plenty of other highlights, notably how Otis Taylor, at 63, brings to blues what bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire do for rock.
It’s amazing to think how much better Steve Miller and his outstanding five-man band were in their headlining appearance Sunday night than the last time the veteran rocker performed at the Doheny Days fest on this same site in September 2000, on a bill with the late John Lee Hooker.
But it wasn’t just his FM radio staples that sounded better almost a dozen years later. Since the release of two notable blues discs (2010′s Bingo! and last year’s Let Your Hair Down Down) and the death of longtime friend and harmonica great Norton Buffalo in 2009, Miller exhibits an obvious appreciation for where he’s been. He recalled playing rhythm guitar for Buddy Guy when he started out, for instance, and thanked him and all the other artists who shared the bill Sunday.
He also knows what is at stake in making the most of here and now, and has been a champion of getting young people into the blues and American music. It was great to see several teens positioned close to the stage singing along with Miller’s songs as if he was the next big thing.
“Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and “Tramp” were standouts amid that segment, the rich music ideally suited for a blues fest. Miller’s singing was fine and his guitar playing flawless whether indulging his well-known smashes or gems of old across a wonderful 100-minute set.
Other veterans in the mix Sunday also proved they remain at the top of their game.
Taylor may have been a bit under the weather (he apologized several times for hoarseness), but that didn’t stop him and his mighty backing band from bringing their scorched-earth sound to the Backporch Stage. That area is normally a quiet place for people to relax and kick back while taking in acoustic performances, but Taylor would have none of that.
Other noteworthy performances included a pleasing breakfast set from singer and harmonica player San Pedro Slim; a wow-factor outing from Irvine’s own Goren, who at only 12 showed he not only plays like Jonny Lang but sings with convincing emotion while improvising on artful arrangements of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Two other sets also really smoked: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue offered up a heavy dose of funk, blues and horn-anchored soul on the Sailor Jerry Stage early in the evening, while rockabilly and American roots were celebrated during the Paladins‘ 75-minute stint on the Backporch.