It’s worth noting that despite the wide-ranging string of radio hits that the Steve Miller Band scored in the 1970s and early 1980s, Miller and company can be an inconsistent live act.
However, in a 140-minute concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on July 14, 2006, Miller, 62, showcased his considerable skills as a singer-songwriter – and most striking – as a guitarist before a sold-out crowd. Fans hoping to hear Miller play his hits were rewarded with energetic takes on “Swingtown” (which kicked off the night), “Living in the U.S.A.,” “Jungle Love” and “Jet Airliner.”
And those who wanted to tap into Miller’s 40-year love of the blues got rousing covers of Freddie King’s “Tore Down” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” as well as a reworked take of his own “Abracadabra” highlighted by virtuoso fret work.
Most of the evening’s highlights came while the ensemble was showcasing material off “Fly Like An Eagle,” an album that Miller told the crowd has just been remastered and is newly-available in a deluxe edition featuring 5.1 Surround Sound and includes previously unreleased material. A countrified “Dance, Dance, Dance,” psychedelic “Wild Mountain Honey” and infectious sing- and clap-along “Take the Money and Run” were among that 1976 album’s songs revisted by Miller during the 23-song set.
An epic version of “Fly Like An Eagle” was used to showcase the distinct talents of his five-man band, notably harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo and keyboardist-rapper Joseph Wooten. Buffalo’s strong skills on the blues harp were artfully mixed with full vocal harmonies during the encore, when a beautiful “Winter Time” reinforced that many of the Steve Miller Band’s strongest songs have been ignored by commercial radio.
Indeed, Miller has always been overshadowed by his commercial hits, stretching from “The Joker” in 1973 to “Abracadabra” in 1982. However, during his performance in Costa Mesa, he seemed to make a strong case for celebrating his unique style of blending blues and rock as uniquely as any artist of his generation. In fact, “The Joker” was reworked with a funk-rock feel that peaked when Miller and guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis played a twin-lead guitar attack reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.
The troupe ended the night with a haunting and powerful version of “Serenade,” which provided the perfect mix of rock and atmosphere to sum up a memorable evening of classic rock hits and electric blues.
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