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Concert Reviews:
Steve Miller opens his book of musical dreams at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2016

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Steve Miller didn't have to bring his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction trophy on stage with him Friday, June 24, to curry the respect or favor of the crowd at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.

The veteran rocker -- alternately known as the Space Cowboy, the Gangster of Love, the Joker and, of course, Maur-ice -- had it from the second he stepped on stage, and probably from whenever those at the show bought their tickets.

Nearing his 50th year as a recording artist, Miller has been a summer fixture he and his band started "Living in the U.S.A." back in 1968. The shows may be a bit shorter (19 songs and 100 minutes on Friday) and the crowds smaller than his heyday of multiple-night sellouts, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dependable, meat-and-potatoes kind of rock 'n' roll show than Miller and company delivered at DTE.

Occupying on a clean, spare stage set with four backdrops that shifted throughout the show, the blue-suited Miller was smart enough to know that the myriad hits that filled the show -- particularly from his multi-platinum mid-70s album tandem of "Fly Like An Eagle" and "Book of Dreams" -- needed to be played faithfully, but he was clever enough to find ways to freshen them as well. Extended intros bulked up songs such as "Jungle Love," "Take the Money and Run" and "Abracadabra," while Miller fortified the latter with some hot guitar soloing that mitigated its inherent pop silliness. And "Living in the U.S.A." started a capella and had a smoother, jazzy timbre, with yet another elongated instrumental opening and more nimble soloing by Miller.

The show celebrated a diverse catalog, touching on blues with version of K.C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues" and Miller's muscular "The Stake" and dipping into rootsy Americana on "Dance Dance Dance" (which was preceded by a short acoustic treatment of "Jet Airliner") and the psychedelia of "Wild Mountain Honey" and "I Want to Make the World Turn Around." "Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma" was also given a countrified treatment, and "Fly Like an Eagle" was its usual spacey gem featuring a long organ solo by Joseph Wooten.

"The Joker," "Rock'n Me," "Swingtown" and an electrified "Jet Airliner" continued the crowd-pleasing hit parade, a satisfying night that made its case for Miller's enshrinement in the Rock Hall two months ago. Before wrapping up he spoke of playing defunct Detroit venues like the Twenty Grand and the Grande Ballroom, noting that "It's great to be here and we always look forward to coming back." And the DTE crowd made it clear it was certainly happy to have him.

Another longtime Detroit favorite, J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf, opened the night with a value-added hour-long set that even had Miller gushing about it afterwards -- and saying he and Wolf should team up next year, and the year after that and so on.

Wolf and his Midnight Ramblers highlighted the comparatively laid-back fare from his latest solo album "A Cure For Loneliness," including tracks such as "Wastin' Time" and "Peace of Mind." But dressed and dancing he would for any Geils show, he referenced favorite characters like the Woofah Goofah and Raputa da Buta and touched on the Geils catalog for tracks such as "Homework," "Give It to Me" and "Lookin' For a Love."

Wolf, too, spoke of past performances at the Cinderella Ballroom and Cobo Arena, and he "Musta Got Lost" to retired radio personality Arthur Penhallow. And without a Geils show on the books this year, he made sure Detroit fans had their fix -- and left hoping than Miller's desire would become a reality.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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