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Friday, 9 November 2012

Live Review - Steve Miller Band

Roundhouse, London, October 20 2012

There are some artists whose popularity seemingly never wanes, but who simultaneously never seem to receive the credit they deserve- and Steve Miller is one of them. He may be associated forever with cheesy stadium rock tunes from adverts (and true to form, both of them are in the set tonight) but he's also a journeyman, a psychedelic warrior and all the other prog-psych clichés (hey, as far as US rock goes, he invented 'em!). He's a man with one of the most varied, colourful and yet still somehow under-appreciated back catalogues of all time under his belt, and a superlative songwriter. 

Thus, having established all of the above, it's still strange to remember that 'Jungle Love', which starts the show, is a tune he didn't actually write. But it's his song now after all these years, and, seguing smoothly into the groove of 'Take The Money And Run', it becomes apparent that it always was. Purists may scoff at any material post-Number Five (and yes, the first quintet of albums are still his best work), but the warm, easy, 70s stadium hippy feel of 'Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma' and 'Sugar Babe' and the urgent grind of 'Mercury Blues' should still have a place in the heart of Shindiggers everywhere, and if 'Serenade', which recalls BOC at their eeriest, isn't one of the most unique songs to ever feature on a million-selling album, then my cash ain't nothin' but trash. 

Steve's also brought a guest star with him again in the shape of one of his R'n'B heroes, former Checkmate Sonny Charles, whose presence has also graced some of the guitarist's recent album releases, and brings an air of authenticity to covers of 'Further On Up The Road', 'All Your Love' and 'Oo Oo Pa Doo'. And though these inclusions could have failed in the big, echoey environs of the Roundhouse, leaning potentially toward the cheesy late '80s soul'n'blues revivalism which soundtracked a dozen Hollywood movies of the time, the subtlety of the accompaniment, most noticeably ever-reliable guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis and the tinkling strains of keysman Joseph Wooten, just about saves it. Just goes to show - it ain't what yo shake, it's how ya shake it. Actually, sidestepping cheese seems to be the order of the day, with the ubiquitous 'Abracadabra' tossed out of the way very early on, making more room for the long-forgotten, blissful 'Kow Kow Calqulator' and the sublime peace'n'love balladry of 'The Window'. This last prefaced by a solo acoustic run through 'Wild Mountain Honey', 'Gangster Of Love' and 'Dance Dance Dance' which was seriously goosebump-inducing. At least that's how I found it anyway: the amount of complete pillocks stood either side of me, who were clearly only here to see one or two songs played, beggared belief, and detracted from an otherwise enjoyable evening.

The liquid shuffle of 'Living In The USA' completes a total of three 'early' tracks in toto, but come on, you didn't really think he was going to play 'In My First Mind' or 'Song For Our Ancestors', did you? Well, we can but dream... Yet, despite the dearth of material from those first five classic albums, which I thought he could have delved into a little more as they've just been "done" (that's industry spiel for ''rereleased in pointless digipacks with dodgy bonus tracks", by the way), there's still something engaging, likeable and ultimately humble about Miller which makes people return year after year to see him. He's still a fine guitarist, one of America's best, in fact, with an infuriating propensity for making it look a lot bloody easier than it ultimately is. His vocals, whilst occasionally dipping into strange keys unbeknownst to the rest of us, still resonate, and his use of words still carries an erudition which has influenced everyone from Graham Parker to the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, so it's very difficult not to like him, even if he plunders some of his best riffs from Robert Johnson via Cream ('Jet Airliner') and Free ('Rock N Me') respectively. But since when did all the best rock and roll have to be original? (yes I'm talking to you Messrs Page, Plant and Jones).

The final salvo of 'Swingtown', 'Space Cowboy' and the inevitable 'Joker' draws the curtains like a rollercoaster finally slowing down to graciously allow its elated audience safe passage back to the fair: in those terms, it's been an illuminating journey, and we've been glad to be on it. For those hoping that next year might be less like a ride and more of a "trip", start petitioning the website with setlists now, and you never know, we may get to witness 'Children Of The Future' in full, maybe even with Boz Scaggs back on the bridge as his captain's trusty number 1. In the meantime, the Cowboy has landed for another year, and let's give thanks that, at 69, he's still firmly in the saddle. 

Darius Drewe Shimon

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