Steve Miller

Live from Chicago

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This classy three-disc (double DVD with CD) set documents a weekend of shows Steve Miller and his longtime band played in Chicago in 2007. The concept emphasizes that this is a homecoming of sorts for Miller, who, as a blues obsessed young man in the mid-'60s, moved from Dallas to the Windy City to delve into the music he loved. Two documentaries on the second DVD explore this time as Miller affably and fondly reminisces with writer Joel Selvin (who also pens eight pages of the booklet's notes) in a Checker cab while they drive around the neighborhoods and old haunts where the guitarist played with his group, the World War lll Blues Band, later the Goldberg-Miller Band. This is fascinating background material, especially for those who only know Miller through either his San Francisco tinged '70s psychedelic folk-rock or the subsequent '70s/early-'80s pop hits. It would resonate with more gravitas, though, if the concert wasn't Miller's standard set of crowd favorites, albeit spiced as usual with a few mid-show blues excursions. For a guy who cut his musical teeth playing (briefly) with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy and was a first-hand observer to the vibrant '60s Chicago blues scene, his versions of "Crossroads" and Otis Rush's "All Your Lovin'" are surprisingly bland and delivered with the slick sheen that tinges the rest of his style. A cover of Jimmie Vaughan's "Boom Bapa Boom" is a worthy addition, but the majority of the set is dedicated, as you would expect, to The Joker era tunes that put the butts in the high priced seats and padded Miller's retirement fund. His veteran band, featuring harp man Norton Buffalo, who looks every inch the old hippie he is, plays with professional enthusiasm that belies how tired they must be of banging out the likes of "Abracadabra" and "Rock 'N Me" nightly for 30-some years. The sound is good, perhaps a bit too tweaked for a live performance, and the multiple high definition cameras catch the action effectively but, like the tunes, with a slickness that falls just short of pandering. The 12-cut CD eliminates the extraneous blues tunes to strip the set down to its basics with titles virtually duplicating 1983's official live release. A few musical detours, such as a 15-minute "Fly Like an Eagle" that includes an entirely unnecessary rap from keyboardist Joseph Wooten (brother of bassist Victor) hint at the potential that the always charming Miller doesn't fulfill for the rest of this solid yet frustratingly predictable gig. The opportunity for Miller and his talented players to color outside the lines and play a straight-ahead blues set to reinforce the musical roots the documentaries emphasize so emphatically is sadly squandered. It's a missed opportunity for many, but any fan of Miller's commercial zenith, and there are plenty of them, will enjoy this document of a typically crowd-pleasing show.

Track Listing - Disc 3

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Track Listing - Disc 4

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blue highlight denotes track pick