One of rock and roll's great mysteries turned 40 last year. What exactly is the “pompitus of love”? Those that were searching, or perhaps even thought they knew the answer, came out to watch Steve Miller and his band perform Sunday night, May 18, 2014 at the Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix. After an entertaining, seventy five minute, 18 song set, did the Steve Miller Band answer the question?
Who cares? It was Steve Miller, live, performing hit after hit as the middle act of the three part San Francisco Fest, which also featured the bands Journey and Tower of Power. You can call him the space cowboy, the gangster of love, Maurice, or the Joker. You can also call him cool enough to pull off wearing dark glasses all night long.
In front of a backdrop of two large Pegasus horses, Miller and his band, Jacob Petersen on guitar, Kenny Lee Lewis on bass, drummer Gordy Knudtson, keyboard player Joseph Wooten and singer/dance machine Sonny Charles, took the stage to the 1977 hit, “Jungle Love.” Immediately the crowd was up and clapping along, as Miller and bandmates began their run on Miller’s catalog of hits.
The familiar “Take the Money and Run,” had the audience doing the proper handclapping cadence found in the song with Wooten performing a nice piano solo. With little in between song banter, other than a “hi everybody,” Miller then gave a nod to his 1980’s sound with “Abracadabra.” Miller’s guitar playing on the song demonstrated that he was much more than just a great songwriter.
A quick U-turn brought the music back to the 1960’s, at least from a release date standpoint. Both “Space Cowboy,” and “Living in the U.S.A.” sounded fresh despite being first recorded in the late 1960’s. Even lyrically the songs still held up and you can’t help smiling when Miller shouts out “somebody give me a cheeseburger.”
The rhythm and blues sound of “The Stake,” from 1977’s “Book of Dreams,” made one appreciate the fine job Lewis was doing on bass and Knudtson on drums. Keyboardist Wooten took the high notes and Miller was content to harmonize in the lower ranges of the song.
A mini, gibberish song title portion came next with “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” from Miller’s 2010 album “Bingo!” and “Shu Ba Du Du Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma,” from 1973’s “The Joker.” The former song allowed Sonny Charles to take lead vocals and show off both his fine voice and his finer dance skills. Both brought the crowd to their feet.
With the band off the stage, Miller sat down with his acoustic guitar for the “campfire part of the show.” The three song selection, “Wild Mountain Honey,” “Gangster of Love,” and “True Fine Love,” found Miller’s voice hitting its stride.
The band and the audience’s loud enthusiasm returned for “The Joker,” with many a former (because a majority of the audience doesn’t stay up that late anymore) “midnight toker,” singing with great gusto. The party was back on.
Encouraging the party atmosphere, stagehands hurled numerous large blue balloons into the audience as Miller strummed the opening chords to “Rock ‘N Me.” Not surprisingly, the audience let out a huge roar every time Miller sang out “I went from Phoenix, Arizona.” Although there will be no show this tour in Philadelphia, Atlanta fans will get their turn to roar later this month.
A cool, 3-D effect, backdrop came down for “Jet Airliner.” The song’s performance was so letter perfect, one expected to hear Miller’s breathing into the microphone that began many of the versus on the studio album.
Although the band left the stage after “Jet Airliner,” the playing of “Space Intro” over the loudspeakers should have been a clue that Miller was returning for an encore. As the band sang “tick, tock, tick,” the crowd once again erupted, getting one last chance to dance and sing. Wooten cut loose on a lengthy organ solo and Miller finally got to really showcase his guitar chops with his extended guitar solo.
In true San Franciscan 1960’s jargon, Miller left the stage wishing everyone “peace, love, happiness.” Whether that qualifies as the “pompitous of love” remains to be seen. But what should be seen is the opportunity to see the Steve Miller Band live. Even at age 70, he can rock it, blues it and does more than just take your money and run.
Set list: Jungle Love | Take The Money And Run | Abracadabra | Space Cowboy | Living In The U.S.A. | Serenade | The Stake | Ooh Poo Pah Doo | Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma | Dance, Dance, Dance | Wild Mountain Honey | Gangster of Love | True Fine Love | The Joker | Swingtown | Rock ‘N Me | Jet Airliner | Encore: Fly Like An Eagle