There's still life
in the Space Cowboy...
It's perhaps fitting that as the creative music of the late 60's has
almost imperceptibly embraced its Heritage Rock label the guitarist
formerly known as Steve 'The Kid' Miller should issue what is in
effect a mid-career retrospective in the form of his first live
concert footage on DVD, plus a documentary and audio CD package.
packaged DVD/CD covers the same source material to be found on the
1983 'Steve Miller Band Live' CD. And in spite of a brief dip into his
younger days as an aspiring blues player, long time fans would have
welcomed at least another shot at Miller's early career persona as
'The Gangster of Love' if not more obviously as the 'Space Cowboy'.
But in laying the early songs and such influential figures as Boz
Scaggs, Les Dudek and Elvin Bishop to history, Steve cleverly focuses
on the most commercial aspect of his career and undoubtedly gives his
upmarket crowd what they want.
Such is the
commercial imperative these days that Miller now finds himself with
half a foot in Stones camp - playing his hits to a well heeled
audience - but in Steve's case the most successful part of his career
came not early on but from around 1974 onwards, finally grinding to a
halt circa 1982 with 'Abracadabra'.
That said, as the
documentary part of the DVD suggests there can surely be fewer better
examples of an artist who has forged his own commercial success on the
back having been in the vanguard of both the core Chicago blues scene
and the nascent West Coast Psychedelic music scene of the late 60's
and the dawn of FM radio. His eventual ascent to the top of both
singles and album charts was by virtue of the twin imperatives of
undiluted talent and sheer hard work, both which are still clearly
Heritage Rock or just good old fashioned baby boomer rock, Steve is
clearly enjoying something of a sparkling autumn to his career, much
like another one of his contemporaries Neil Young. He may be playing
in front of an upmarket crowd with their de rigueur rock and roll
picnics, but hell, he's earned the right to be there as this twenty
song concert amply demonstrates. And while the years might just have
taken a little toll on his golden voice he's smart enough to include
all of his band except drummer Gordy Knudtson on bv's, and fleshes out
the instrumental passages where needed.
Thus, 'Fly' is
boosted by a mighty expansive Joseph Wooten solo on Hammond and some
atmospheric synth fills There's also a startling rap and subsequent
jazzy funk end section that might come as something of a surprise to
long time fans, but shows he's in tune with something pertaining to
the case that where once blues was regarded as cutting edge music now
Rap and funky double lines hold sway. 'Rock'n Me', still comes with
its borrowed intro from 'Free's 'All Right Now' and is given a
slightly new arrangement with a hypnotic mantra like repeated chorus,
while 'Take the Money & Run' is beefed up by some sterling piano work.
Long time blues harp
associate Norton Buffalo also adds some gritty phrasing on 'Winter
Time'. Steve is careful to bring due care and attention to all aspects
of this his first live outing for 25 years.
In sum 'Live From
Chicago' draws on the very best elements of his melodic back
catalogue, and showcases his golden vocal harmonies which have always
such an integral part of his unique radio friendly sound. On the DVD
concert footage Miller dips back into past for a brace of confidently
handled blues outings making it all the more puzzling why he eschews
the chance to do the same with his highly regarded psychedelic
But as with the
cleverly rearranged and slightly speeded up 'Abracadabra'- taken in a
different key from the original - Miller shows he's a man who won't
stand still, even if when it comes to cleverly re-arranging some
complex studio trickery for such an impressive live outing as this.
Steve's alter ego 'Maurice' may long be gone and 'The Gangster of
Love' may also be buried but Steve Miller the master song stylist and
fluid guitarist remains wholly intact.
Review by Pete Feenstra