Sunday, October 3, 2010

Steve Miller Band - "Mercury Blues" from the LP Fly Like an Eagle

Went out to the ballpark last night and saw Stevie Guitar Miller.

It's not too odd these days for major league teams looking for a boost to their attendance to host concerts by those on the nostalgia circuit after Friday or Saturday night games. And the Marlins I guess are a little more active on this front than some of their competition, other than considering the makeup of the area, half the shows they sponsor are salsa acts.

But last night was for the Anglos, and longtime readers who know I'm a Steve Miller fan should only be slightly surprised that I took Schfrank and Cerveza up on the opportunity presented when they invited me to the game.

In one sense, of course, a Steve Miller concert might be among the events I'd be least expected to attend. While a time machine or some other method of delivery to the late '60's would be greeted enthusiastically, as it would allow me to witness the band's set at Monterey Pop, the last thing I'm about when it comes to music is the warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. I'd rather be challenged with something new or at the least old and obscure than hear the number one hit yet again. So what if they played "All the Young Dudes" at my high school's prom?

I wasn't even fucking there.

Steve Miller Band Bingo! CD coverAnd yet, to me, Miller's formidable body of work prior to his mid-seventies' career peak makes him something of a titan--no-one from San Francisco was better, and no-one anywhere played a slow blues the way Miller could. And Miller might be a nostalgia act at this point, but he DOES have a new album out, and it IS good. It's called Bingo!, and it nods more in the directions of his late '60's work than his mid '70's stuff, being a collection of R & B and blues covers.

And while recognizing it unlikely that someone playing after a ballgame in Miami would stretch out and play their old and obscure psychedelic blues or their new and obscure R & B stuff in lieu of their massive radio hits remembered as tokens of their youth by the upper-middle class suburbanites who attend a ballgame in Miami in the first place, what clinched it for me is that I actually LIKE a lot of the radio hits.

Why, just the other week, I added "Take the Money and Run" to my iTunes after hearing it on the classic rock station during the three or four days when Jr. was dead but III had not yet arrived. Still love the way he rhymes "Texas" and "facts is" and "taxes." I was even telling Carlos the warehouse kid about how great those lines are . . . . though Schfrank would express a contrary opinion during the show.

So, fuck yeah, reservations be damned, let's go, Steve Miller, the Space Cowboy, the Gangster of Love, even though in all likelihood, he wouldn't actually be playing the songs which gave him those nicknames.

I got there early, and saw all the ballgame, and let me tell you this: Do not go to a ballgame in late September in which both teams have been eliminated, unless they've got some kind of a concert afterwards. The Marlins (long since eliminated from the playoffs) faced the Pirates (the worst team in baseball, v. 2010), and if it's possible to play a game in a more lethargic and less energetic manner, I don't wanna know about it. Marlins won 2 - 0 in perhaps the most boring game I have ever personally witnessed.

But hey! No worries! After a short fireworks show, it's Stevie Guitar Miller!

Let me say before proceeding that Miller looked good for a 67-year old man. Grey to be sure, but spry and still flexible in the fingers where it matters. His voice was more hit-and-miss, though, but what are you gonna do?

First song was "Jet Airliner"--no surprises there. But the second was "Mercury Blues" and that was a little surprising, especially in that Miller played it more in the country style of Alan Jackson's # 1 hit version than of the primo blues version he himself had released on Fly Like an Eagle. It also seemed to me that Miller was singing "Crazy about a Mercury Ford."

Weird, right? Turns out that right around when Jackson recorded the song and allowed Ford to use it to sell their pickup trucks in the early '90's Ford Motor Company actually bought the rights to the tune from the estate of KC Douglas or whomever. Now, no company anywhere no matter what rights they own can dictate the lyrics to a song performed live in concert, but--given that Miller conducted his own business transaction with Ford when he allowed the guitar intro to "Swingtown" to be played over commercials hawking the Ford Mustang in exchange for some Ford-built tractors--I have to wonder whether Miller has maybe cut another deal with Ford to sing the song that way in his appearances.

That's another one of the things about the nostalgia circuit, I guess: you can't ever pretend it's not about the money.

Miller would also go on to play a rather boring version of "Swingtown," though if Miller considered rewriting the lyrics to mention FoMoCo, he ultimately passed on the opportunity.

"Swingtown" was probably the least inspired tune Miller did, but later in the show came a song that he historically has failed to render properly. Back in the '80's, after "Abracadabra" had hit, Miller put out the Steve Miller Band Live! LP, and I remember being turned off to its eventual purchase by the video for "Living in the USA," which--recorded in Vegas or wherever in 1983--totally and absolutely failed to capture the groove it had on Miller's classic Sailor LP from 1968.

Twenty-five years later, with Sailor bandmates Boz Scaggs and Lonnie Turner and Tim Davis just as absent as they'd been in '83, it is kind of reassuring to me that Miller still can't get his old song right. And I won't hold it against him that he dedicated a song about the inauthenticity of a plastic land to our soldiers in Afghanistan, not given his audience for the evening, but I'm pretty sure he can't have meant that.

It might seem like this review is going in a certain direction, but let me nip that in the bud. If the "Mercury Blues" thing made "Swingtown" sound a little funny, or if the message on "Living in the USA" was a little garbled, that was it. Miller was never cheesy, always played and sang entusiastically, and rather smoked on the guitar. For me, the highlights of the show were when Miller took his solos. For example, I never much cared for "Abracadabra," but the version played Saturday night jammed. Miller's solo work was muscular throughout, and side deals or no, you can tell he loves playing the instrument.

And he played two songs from Bingo!, too, and got decent if not overwhelming responses, as well. I was glad to see that.

The show was hardly perfect, but regardless of the flaws, I had a damned good time. In saying goodnight, Miller asked to be invited back when the Marlins open their new stadium in 2012. I'll say this: if the team does invite him back, they can count on at least one fanny in their seats, even if it's a late season game without any playoff implications at all.

File under: Blues Rock, Concerts rastro went to

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