Time keeps on slipping into the future, but not for classic rock.
Steve Miller’s “The Joker” was released 40 years ago and it still puts smiles on people’s faces.
The Steve Miller Band opened the Lake Tahoe Summer Concert Series at Stateline Saturday, June 22, before more than 5,000 beaming fans. A 90-minute, 20-song performance concluded with an encore, “The Joker,” a song so well known William Shatner has covered it. As he talked about the song, Miller jokingly imitated Capt. Kirk imitating Miller.
Dressed in black, Miller and his tight band – Jacob Petersen, guitar; Joseph Wooten, keys; Kenny Lee Lewis, bass; and Gordy Knudtson, drums – had the crowd dancing the moment it went onstage. It opened with well-known radio hits “Jungle Love,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Nobody Loves You Like the Way I Do,” “Abracadabra,” and “Living in the USA.”
“Somebody give me a cheeseburger,” Miller finished, and the crowd loved it.
With the audience revved up, Miller switched gears and played bluesman Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” with a “James Bond twist.” Coincidentally, one of Rush’s final, if not the final performance, was in 2004 on the same stage at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.
Miller had the crowd look to the “cheap seats” where people watched from the balconies of the hotel.
Miller reminisced about playing for promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore Theater 120 times, more than any other artist, and a venue where he shared with his heroes Rush, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. Then he played the funky “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma,” he attributed to another Fillmore mainstay Carlos Santana.
Miller brought steel guitarist Jeff Kearns onstage for a sweet duet of “Something to Believe In.” Kearns also works as the band’s driver and Miller’s banjo teacher.
Before playing four acoustic solo songs, Miller said, “This is the mountain portion of the show. I live in the mountains, too, Ketchum, Idaho.” A highlight of the evening, Miller sang and strummed “Something to Believe In,” “Wild Mountain Honey,” “Gangster of Love” and “Dance Dance Dance.”
Then it was back to the classics: “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Jet Airliner,” “Space Cowboy,” Rockin’ Me,” “Swingtown” and “Serenade From the Stars,” and some folks even danced on the chairs.
Like me, most of the audience was old enough to remember when the classic rock was new and vinyl records meant everything.
Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive” Michael Myers joked in “Wayne’s World,” was required for any suburban teen’s musical library. Later that year, 1976, Miller released “Fly Like an Eagle,” with its nestful of singles. And the next year’s follow-up, “Book of Dreams,” was, as anticipated, an instant success, and those songs have been on the radio ever since.
Miller gave the people at Tahoe what they wanted but I’d like to speak of the “pompatus” of what I’d love to someday hear. It would be great to see the Space Cowboy go Neil Young on us and play what he really loves. He is a magnificent guitarist and a blues musicologist who left his home state Wisconsin to join the Chicago blues scene during its heyday 1960s. He doubtless learned the slide guitar whistle he made famous on “The Joker” after he heard something similar from Muddy Waters or Hubert Sumlin. But once that record turned to gold, his pop-rock path was cleared, one that’s mostly lovey dovey all the time.
Steve Miller Band
Set list, June 22, Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
1 – Jungle Love
2 – Take the Money and Run
3 – Nobody Loves You Like the Way I Do
4 – Abracadabra
5 – Living in the USA
6 – All Your Love (I Miss Loving)
7 – Sugar Babe
8 – Mary Lou
9 – Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
10 – Something to Believe In (solo acoustic)
11 – Wild Mountain Honey (solo acoustic)
12 – Gangster of Love (solo acoustic)
13 – Dance Dance Dance (solo acoustic)
14 – Fly Like an Eagle
15 – Jet Airliner
16 – Space Cowboy
17 – Rockin’ Me
18 – Swingtown
19 – Serenade From the Stars
20 – Joker (encore)