I was a few years too young to appreciate most of Steve Miller's guitar-driven hits when they dominated the charts. But more than a decade later when I went to college, the man's Greatest Hits 1974-'78 collection was as ubiquitous in the dorm rooms and fraternity houses as Bob Marley's Legend and the music of a certain cheeseburger-loving seafarer with a mind to get drunk and screw.
Judging by the sold-out Red Butte Garden Wednesday night, Miller's music still connects with plenty of fans. On a picture-perfect night, the folks filling the amphitheater were on their feet for all the classics, waving their arms in time at the command of Miller's sidekick/hype man, and thoroughly enjoying a serious blast from the past.
Miller certainly knows how to pace out a show, giving the crowd plenty of what it craved and adding some mini-sets along the way that featured one of his band members taking lead vocals for a few songs, or an acoustic almost-solo section.
He came out firing some of his biggest guns, opening with "Jungle Love" and quickly moving into "Take the Money and Run" and "The Stake"--all songs that clearly thrilled the crowd. Miller wasn't much for between-song banter, introducing the definitely dated "Abracadabra" with a quick "Here's a little magic for ya."
Miller ceded lead vocals for his cover of Eric Clapton's "Further on Up the Road," and a couple more songs before he got into more of his standards, including dedicating "Living in the U.S.A." to "all the men and women in the armed forces.
The best part of the show came when Miller delivered several songs from his 1973 album The Joker. There's no denying Miller's skill as a guitar player and way with writing hooks, and that came through on lesser-known (at least to me) Joker tunes like "Sugar Babe," "Mary Lou" and "Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma," a song he dedicated to Santana's old rhythm section after telling a story about hanging out with Carlos Santana at San Francisco's Fillmore, watching and playing with everyone from B.B. King to the Grateful Dead.
Given its 40th anniversary, focusing on The Joker made sense, and helped the show with a much-needed veer away from the same old hits. The acoustic takes on "Wild Mountain Honey" and "Dance Dance Dance"--both abetted with a little pedal-steel--were solid, and the band jammed out a bit on "Fly Like an Eagle" before "Jet Airliner" got the crowd back on its feet and dancing.
Miller's voice sounds pretty much the same despite the passage of several decades since most of the songs in his set debuted, and his guitar-playing is crisp and worth the price of admission on its own. And a real bonus for me? The fact that a Steve Miller show is one of the few I can attend and still feel like a young punk.