in performance: steve miller band

steve miller.

Concealing the stage area last night before showtime at Cincinnati’s PNC Pavilion was a massive banner adorned with the image of an Old West gunslinger covered with stars. In huge lettering underneath was the portrait’s title: Space Cowboy. That, of course, is also the name of a 40-plus year old hit by the evening’s headliner, the Steve Miller Band – a hit that went unplayed during the concert that followed.

Journey with us now to the concession stand. Among the wares for sale was a t-shirt depicting the cover art for one of Miller’s greatest albums, 1969’s Your Saving Grace – a recording bypassed completely during the performance.

Yes, Miller has maintained a fruitful recording career for close to 45 years. And while such visuals served as reminders of the vastness of his song catalogue, Miller devoted the better part of the 100 minute concert to his commercial heyday. Specifically, 13 of the evening’s 19 songs came 1973’s The Joker, 1976’s Fly Like an Eagle and 1977’s Book of Dreams – albums that transformed Miller from a psychedelic bluesman into an international pop star.

Admittedly, Miller’s did this material proud. At 68, he was in very strong voice, which helped illuminate the folkish reflection in a solo acoustic reading of The Window (probably the least familiar of the Eagle tunes). Similarly, he proved to be a keen, versed guitarist that still confidently piloted the soul-funk drive of Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma (the best of the Joker selections).

But Miller has played this set, with few changes, for decades. While the crowd (curiously and abundantly populated by enthusiastic 20-somethings who weren’t even close to being born when these ‘70s hits were on the radio) had a field day with the familiar fare, it sure would have been nice if Miller rummaged more in the deep end of his back catalogue. As it was, a glossy and fairly static reworking of Living in the U.S.A was the only representation offered of his ‘60s music.

Oddly enough, what few surprises the show presented came when Miller shifted the time machine in the other direction. He stripped 1986’s I Want to Make the World Turn Around of the robotic beats that were standard pop issue back in the day and offered a darker, denser update with chant-style vocals and guitarwork that recalled latter day Pink Floyd.

A trio of blues tunes from Miller’s 2010 album Bingo! (highlighted by a subdued take on Otis Rush’s All My Loving that fell somewhere between Peter Green-style British blues and noir-style rhumba) balanced out a set delivered with ageless vigor and ample good cheer. But it seemed a shame to summon the image of the Space Cowboy and then not even invite him to the party.

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