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Battling what must have been a vicious cold, Steve Miller delivered a worthy effort Saturday night at the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo for a 90-minute set of familiar favorites and classic blues covers.
And for that success, the singer-guitarist made sure to give proper credit.
“I’d like to give a shout-out to the folks at UT [Medical] Center,” Miller said just past the mid-way point of his set. “They fixed me all up. If I sound a little spaced out it’s their fault.”
In fact, the space cowboy, as he is want to refer to himself, was in fine vocal form thanks to the medicines — including, he said, a steroid and an antibiotic — delivering studio-rendition versions on stage of radio mainstays like “Jet Airliner,” “Take the Money and Run,” “The Stake,” “Abracadabra,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” and “Rock N’ Me.” Just as importantly to fans, his guitar playing was even better than advertised, with Miller cutting loose every so often on solos, beefing up the live experience of the ’70s hits and reminding everyone that he can play blues with just about anyone.
Steve Miller and his five-piece band, though, were only half of the night’s attraction, which drew nearly 4,200 to the arena. Gregg Allman opened the show. This is the first time both rock legends have ever toured together, states Miller’s Web site. Neither act is considered the opener, though Allman’s blues-y, subdued set clocked in at a half-hour shorter than Miller’s. But the musical pairing works.
Allman, like Miller, is steeped in the blues and recently released a new album of blues covers, “Low Country Blues.” But like Miller, Allman chose to lead the night with more familiar songs: the Allman Brothers, “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’,” followed by “I’m No Angel,” which, from 1986, happens to be the last radio hit Allman's scored. Wearing a Harley-Davidson jersey T-shirt, blue jeans, and with his long white-blond hair pulled into a ponytail, Allman was fairly subdued through the performance, alternating between his Hammond E3 organ and acoustic and electric guitar, his husky blue-collar vocals still potent after all these decades. Allman’s six-piece band — led by strong blues and slide guitar work by Scott Sharrard — was tight and musically engaging, including a slowed-down, thoughtful arrangement of “Melissa”; Allman particularly noting the line “freight train, each car looks the same, all the same” as few would know better than a longtime touring musician.
Other set highlights included the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and “Statesboro Blues,” and “Just Another Rider,” a new song from Allman and Warren Haynes on “Low Country Blues.”
After a lengthy intermission to set up a whirling guitar vortex backdrop for the stage, Miller appeared, sporting a black T-shirt, black jeans, and sunglasses. He was backed by a competent and tight group that was rarely flashy —well, other than backup singer Sonny Charles of Fort Wayne, Ind., and his distracting Chippendales dance moves.
The crowd was mostly there to hear Miller’s arsenal of hits, which he delivered, sandwiched between his more contemporary blues covers of “Mercury Blues,” Jimmy Vaughan’s “Hey Yeah,” — featuring a nimble psychedelic guitar solo by Miller — “Further on up the Road,” Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing,” and “I Got Love if You Want It.” The blues covers fit in so well with his set, one wonders is that because of the pop sensibility that Miller brings to the blues, or is it that there has always been that much blues in his pop songs?
Miller slowed things down briefly for a solo acoustic version of “Wild Mountain Honey,” which didn’t miss the psychedelic keyboard on the studio version of the song, and a foot-stompin’ country jam with “Dance, Dance, Dance.”
He closed with “Space Cowboy” as the encore, his voice disappearing briefly as he finished the song’s first line. Miller laughed, plowed through the song, and left the stage. The UT Medical Center had gotten him through the show, but the veteran musician knew better than to push his luck.
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6734.