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Coming Home Media CHM DV7001(2008)
There's still life in the Space Cowboy... Steve Miller

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.

The beautifully 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 evident here.

Whether termed 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 contemporary.

 Perhaps it's 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 material.

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

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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