I recently had the pleasure and good fortune to see the Steve Miller Band in concert. What a great night! I’d grown up on both of SMB’s greatest hits records. Seeing them live really drove home the incredible skill of Steve Miller. I’m greatly impressed with his ability to craft songs that have both mass appeal and the ability to keep us music nerds interested. How does Steve walk the line between (dare I say) “pop” music and psychedelic guitar jams? I guess if I knew that, I wouldn’t be making records in my house by myself!
One thing that you can’t miss when you see Steve Miller is how much fun he’s having. Maybe it was just an act, but I don’t think so. He came across as a fun-loving guy; he smiled the whole show and seemed like he genuinely enjoyed what he was doing. Learning point for us amateurs: have fun making music! That’s why we do this, after all. Those hours of practicing and learning about playing and recording music should eventually result in some fun, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Speaking of practicing, it was obvious that the SMB was a well polished act. They had their songs down (not that this surprised me). They made it look easy, had fun, put on a great show, and made some great music, all with songs that they’ve probably played several thousand times. All that translated to a great time for the audience as well. Steve had a couple of good stories that helped the audience get to know him a little. He told the story of how he started his band circa 1956 at 12 years old by offering all the local fraternity houses an opportunity to hire a rock ‘n’ roll band, when such things didn’t really exist (rock ‘n’ roll was only a year or two old!) He told the story of writing “The Joker”, which he did literally by “just goofing around on the guitar”. He played a couple of songs by himself on an acoustic guitar, one of which was “Jet Airliner”. After doing a slow, mellow verse and chorus of this classic hit, he stopped, laughed, and said, “just kidding!” The incendiary, full-band version of “Jet Airliner” was the encore and closing song. Classic!
One thing I’d like to study about Steve’s guitar playing is his use of delay. He used long delays, for very specific effect, on certain songs (“Abracadabra”, “Fly Like an Eagle”, etc.) I haven’t really delved into the world of delay, usually being content with the built-in reverb on my amp, but seeing this show has inspired me to experiment with it a bit more. Like anything else on the guitar, it takes some practice to get right, but sounds pretty awesome once you do!
If you’ve learned any Steve Miller Band songs, you may have noticed that many of them are fairly simply structured. However, seeing this concert drove home the point that many of the best songs are simple at their heart, but contain complex pieces that fit together in a compelling way. Steve’s guitar solos were complex but not in a showy, obvious way. They sort of snuck up on you, almost like you didn’t know that you were hearing a musical, interesting solo until you were halfway through it. Many of his songs have interesting keyboard parts, unique drum hooks, and other inventive uses of your standard rock instruments. Perhaps this blending of the simple and the complex is one of the key’s to Steve’s success as an artist.
Overall, the Steve Miller Band put on a great concert. It was a blast on many levels – just the sheer joy of hearing great songs performed by a great band, the lessons of how to craft a great song, and a reminder to have fun playing music. Go see ’em if you can!