It’s hard to maintain a sense of critical snobbery when 1500 people are dancing, singing, and even the ushers are skipping through the aisles mouthing the words to songs perfectly. In short, Steve Miller was much more enjoyable than this old fan expected. Officially, I declare that Steve Miller was one of the most daring experimenters on the 1960s San Francisco scene, a prodigy who played with early Chicago blues musicians like Howlin Wolf and produced two genius albums, Children of the Future and Sailor. This great period was punctuated by radio blah blah and everything that came after Boz Scaggs left the band and the song “Space Cowboy” made him a radio staple.
Off the record now, I admit that even though Miller never dipped into that hallowed period — not even “Quicksilver Girl” or “Living in the USA” — he proved a kind of consummate live artistry in front of his hungry Santa Barbara fans. Opening with “Jungle Love,” segueing into “Take the Money and Run,” and seamlessly blending through “The Stake,” Miller had the crowd in the palm of his talky-guitar playing hand. It should be added even at 70 he looks solid and his voice is still steady and powerful.
After the ridiculously eclectic band Dispatch warmed the evening, Miller took the stage to play 14 songs, with the core of the show being three cuts from his 1973 album, The Joker. He lost the crowd briefly at the end of a small acoustic set when he played “Something to Believe In” for, allegedly, the first time in 35 years. The lesson seems to be that when Miller plays anything but his hits from the ‘70s, the love drops precipitously. He played acoustic and then stood up and we heard the synthesizers roll.
“This is happening, this is real,” said a friend sitting in the next seat and he wasn’t really joking. The crowd went crazy for the final frenzy: “Fly Like and Eagle” followed by “Big Old Jet Liner,” “Space Cowboy,” and concluding with “The Joker,” a song that seems to have become an unintended anthem of the 1970s. Whatever it takes, from midnight toker to Maurice, Miller may not be a genius anymore, but he is beloved.