Surely anyone who has owned or been near a radio in the last 40 years is quite familiar with the songbook of Steve Miller. Miller cut his teeth as a member of the late 1960's San Francisco psychedelic movement but rose to prominence in the mid-1970's on the strength of a mountain of hit singles and platinum albums.
The near-sell out crowd that packed into Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday night obviously still holds Miller's music near and dear to its hearts. For two solid hours, Miller, clad in simple black shirt, black jeans and dark shades, and his stellar five-piece band treated the boisterous crowd to a fine overview of his 45-year career as a recording artist.
Opening with "Jungle Love," an FM radio staple since it's 1977 release, Miller got things off to a rapid start and began the onslaught of recognizable tunes. Playing before a visually stunning backdrop consisting of dozens of guitars forming a circular sculpture that resembled the passageway to a cool modern rock 'n roll cave, Miller looked and sounded great as he sang those all-too-familiar lyrics with the accompaniment of the very vocal crowd.
Aided by backup singer and R&B vet Sonny Charles, Miller kept the pace moving as the barreled through his impressive catalog of hit after hit. His early '80's single and MTV favorite "Abracadabra" drew a healthier response from those in the crowd that looked about the age to have become familiar with Miller thanks to the formerly all-music channel.
Miller dug deep into the archives to balance the set list with the more-familiar material. "Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma" a deep album cut from 1973 and "Kow Kow," a rarity from 1969, certainly pleased more of the long-time, hardcore fans who came to see Miller on a wet, dank Wednesday night.
Miller occasionally let Charles take center stage and lead vocals. Blues standard "Further on Up the Road" featured Charles' smooth, sweet blues croon and more of the fancy footwork and shimmying and wiggling he engaged in for the duration of the show.
An short, solo acoustic set was well-received and really helped to prove that Miller's vocals remain almost totally unchanged from his earlier days.
The salute to military veterans that preceded the chugging 1960's boogie-blues anthem "Livin' in the USA" drew roaring cheers and applause in support of Miller's words urging "all those politicians to step up and take care of 'em".
The most deafening cheers, however, were elicited when Miller worked his way towards the biggies: the mega-hits that have defined his legacy. The 1976 classic "Fly Like an Eagle" was preceded by its trippy "Space Intro" and eventually morphed into a tasty extended jam that showcased Miller's impressive guitar chops. The opening notes of "Jet Airliner" got the whole place up and on its feet, and it turned into a massive sing-along that led into "Rock 'N Me," another one of Miller's many blockbuster hits.
The night came to a close with Miller launching into his signature song, 1973's "The Joker." Complete with its familiar wah-wah guitar work and suggestive lyrics, Miller's enthusiasm and delivery was fresh and inspired...hard to believe after more than 40 years of performing this one, he'd still belt it out with such fervor.
For the mostly 50-plus crowd (and for the few 20-somethings there, too), it was a night of memories, hits and fun. While Miller isn't quite the draw he was in his heyday and he's not selling records in the astronomical figures he did way back when, his fanbase is still pretty loyal and faithful. Classic rock radio has helped keep his name and his music alive, and strong performances like the one last Wednesday night prove that Miller is still deserving of every bit of recognition he's garnered over the decades.
Take the Money and Run
Further on Up the Road
Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
All Your Love (Otis Rush cover)
Ooh Poo Pah Doo
Texas (Electric Flag cover)
Wild Mountain Honey (acoustic)
Gangster of Love (acoustic)
Dance Dance Dance (acoustic)
Livin' in the USA
Space Intro/Fly Like an Eagle
Rock 'N Me