Back when I was in high school, one of the concerts that everyone looked forward to each summer was the Steve Miller Band show. Though Steve Miller had become popular in the seventies, most high schoolers continued to rediscover his music over the years and claim him as one of their own. The Steve Miller Band concert served as a mini reunion over the summer; pretty much everyone that was everyone would be at that show. The show evolved into a rite of passage, a destination for all the “cool kids.”
Unfortunately for me, the Steve Miller concert also routinely coincided with when my family went on vacation, so I was never able to be a part of these summertime memories. Every year, I’d hear stories about all the fun that people had at the concert and the people watching that I had missed. Every year, I’d be annoyed that my family somehow managed to pick the one weekend that I really didn’t want to be out of town; I’m sure that my parents weren’t intentionally trying to ruin my street cred and scar me for life, but when you are 15 years old and everyone who is anyone is going to a show that you have to miss, you are going to be a little salty about it. This wasn’t a summertime phenomenon just at my high school; when I went away to college and met other people from the area, they too had made a big deal out of this summer pilgrimage to see the show. Because I never got to see Steve Miller, the concert took on something of mythical proportions in my mind; even though I am going to my 20th high school reunion this year (egad!), when the topic of the Steve Miller concerts came up in conversation earlier this year, I was still surprisingly bummed out that I never got to go.
However, the gods finally decided to smile upon me, as not long after that conversation bemoaning the fact that I didn’t get to go to the concert, SPAC announced that not only was the Steve Miller Band making a stop at the venue this summer, but they were touring with Journey. That’s right – Journey! We all know how I feel about them. Really, there couldn’t have been any clearer sign from above that my time had finally arrived. I wrangled up someone to go with me posthaste and we secured our inside seats for the show; for Steve Miller and Journey, there was no way that I was going to fraternize with the proletariat on the lawn. I’d waited over twenty years for this moment and I was going to make the most of it.
Some logistical issues meant that we didn’t arrive at the show until the opening act, Tower of Power, were finishing up their set. Normally I don’t like to skip the opener – I think that is kind of disrespectful and you may miss out on discovering a new band – but we were so overscheduled with other activities that day that I was fine with making this concession to arrive at the show later than normal (a challenge to my type A personality) in order to fit everything else in. We managed to hear the one Tower of Power song that I knew, so I’m counting that as a win overall. I’m learning to go with the flow. As long as we were there in time to see the Steve Miller Band, I was going to be a happy camper.
I hadn’t sat down to do the math before the show, but Steve Miller is 70 years old. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, give his tenure in music, but when he walked out on stage I was a little surprised. His voice may have changed a bit, but overall he and the band were very solid and did a nice job of working their way through his many hits. In fact, I was even more impressed with his musical ability once I realized his age; 70 isn’t necessarily old, but the dexterity with which he played the guitar was especially impressive given the context. I’m in my thirties and I’m already noticing that I am starting to slow down a little, so hats off to a guy who can still rock out after 70 decades on the planet.
In addition to hearing some of my favorite songs, my hands down favorite part of the show was one of the members of the Steve Miller Band. There was a guy off to the side of the stage whose primary contribution to the band appeared to be his ability to boogie down. He would occasionally come in to harmonize on the chorus or provide some backing vocals, but he was mostly there just to dance like nobody was watching. Of course, we were watching and we were endless entertained by some of the sweet dance moves that he was busing out. I swear that he did the Batusi at one point. The stage was pretty simply decorated for their set and there wasn’t any pyro or other special effects, so this guy was really the most interesting thing to watch. At first we thought it was just us that found him so amusing, but it slowly became apparent that our entire section was just as obsessed with this guy as we had become. The quality isn’t great, but here he is in action:
I developed a working theory that this guy was Bob Miller, younger brother to Steve, and that he was on stage because back when they were kids their mom asked “Stevie” to find a place for “Bobby” in the band. This was obviously hogwash, but I cracked myself up with this concept. We found out later that he could really sing when he took the lead vocals on a song, but I remained committed to the idea that it was nepotism that got him on stage as a sort of hype man. He was perfection.
It turns out that seeing Steve Miller live wasn’t necessarily the life altering experience that I had built it up to be, but it was still a very good time. He has a pretty expansive catalog of hits and it was fun to sing along to so many songs that had been a big part of my teenaged experience. I didn’t know many songs beyond his greatest hits album, so there were a few new songs for me during his set. It may not have been an epic performance, but it was laid back and fun and satisfied everything that I was looking for out of a Steve Miller show.
While I am always excited to see Journey, this was my forth time seeing the band in the last eight years or so, so some of the magic had worn off a little bit. It is no longer amazing how much Arnel Pineda sounds like Steve Perry; I now expect to hear that voice coming out of that body. This is not to say that seeing Journey is no longer a fun experience – I still have a blast rocking out to them – but it is becoming a slightly more routine experience. But a routine night with “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully” is still better than a lot of other things.
One thing of interest was that unlike the other times that I’ve seen them, the band went out of their way to highlight the other members of the bands with extensive instrumental solos. At different points in the show, everyone would leave the stage except for the member that was the focus. Neal Schon kicked things off with a pretty cool version of the national anthem and while it was very good, it seemed a little out of place and ruined the momentum of the show. I love ‘Murica as much as the next person, but it just didn’t make sense with the flow of the rest the show. The idea is to build the enthusiasm of the crowd, not give them ill-timed periods to cool off. This happened with every instrumental – I have no problem with giving everyone a moment to shine, but I don’t know that they needed to be all separate moments rather than as part of one of the songs. I’m sure that they could have found a place for a drum solo or awesome guitar riff within the context of the Journey songs that everyone was excited to hear. I was already kind of tired of these instrumentals when they doubled back to give Neal Schon a second instrumental. At this point, I began to wonder if this was a strategy to give Pineda’s voice a rest. He didn’t show signs of any vocal strain during his performances, but he was conspicuously offstage during all of these moments. This is purely speculation on my part, but it would explain some of the filler. Or perhaps the rest of the band has gotten a little jealous about all the attention that Pineda has received and wanted to reclaim some of the spotlight. I’d believe that as well – especially Schon who strikes me as a guy who enjoys attention. His wedding was a pay-per-view event, after all. Whatever was going on, I think that these breaks hurt the overall show. They were just too disruptive.
Some other thoughts:
- I was very surprised that Journey opted to not save “Don’t Stop Believin’” for the encore. When I heard the familiar first notes of the song earlier than anticipated, I was legitimately confused.
- I had no idea that Steve Miller had an actual song called “Space Cowboy;” I thought that was just something from “The Joker.” I learned something new.
- Also a surprising revelation – Journey performed “Faithfully” for the first time ever on the piano backstage at SPAC after Jon Cain wrote the song on a bus ride to Saratoga in the 1980s. Who knew?
- I used to tell the pledges of my sorority that “you have to go through hell before you get to heaven” during their hell week phase of pledging. I’d forgotten all about that until I heard Steve Miller singing the lyrics from “Jet Airliner” that I quoted to them (not that I think any of them ever knew what I was talking about).
- There were two girls who were in the section ahead of us that stood for all of Journey, which didn’t necessarily bother me but was kind of rude since no one else was really standing up and they were blocking the view of pretty much everyone behind them. At the end of the show, the girl turned around and was really rude to the (older) woman behind her who must have complained, getting in her face and generally being a jerk. Poor concert etiquette all around from that one.
- Steve Miller is inadvertently responsible for me being kicked out (temporarily) from our high school library. One of my friends had been singing “Take the Money and Run” semi-quietly to himself in the (mostly) abandoned library. When he got to the part where you clap along (after “Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas”), I did what you are contractually obligated to do and clapped. This did not sit well with the librarian who sent me packing and banned us for the rest of the week. Totally worth it.
While this wasn’t my favorite show that I’ve seen by Journey and finally seeing the Steve Miller Band wasn’t the transformative experience that I had built it up to be, it was still a great night and a very fun double bill. I’m glad that I no longer feel excluded from the Steve Miller Band club; it was a little ironic that I didn’t run into anyone that I went to high school with at the show, since that was such a big part of the concert experience when we were teenagers. I don’t know that I necessarily have to see Steve Miller again if he rolls into town (we all know that I’ll see Journey), but being able to finally cross that life experience off my list was well worth it.
Steve Miller Band and Journey are out on tour together through August; remaining dates of the tour can be found here.