Review: Steve Miller Band satisfies sugar babes and midnight tokers alike at Tampa Hard Rock

Funky shit goin’ down in the city.

click to enlarge Steve Miller - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
Steve Miller
Not many can say that they’re literal godchildren of Les Paul himself. Steve Miller—who uses the hell out of Les’ guitars—has that bragging right, as well as the stories of performing and hanging out with the legend in general.

“I used to go over to his house, and there’d be 25 Les Pauls laying around, but he never gave me a Les Paul guitar,” Steve explained during pre-song banter. “He told me ‘no, you have to earn your own Les Paul guitar.’”

Years later, it’s pretty damn safe to say that Miller has more than earned his own, even if it wasn't a gift from his godfather.

We get plenty of nostalgia acts in Tampa Bay—especially over at the Hard Rock Event Center—but for what it is, Steve Miller Band’s schtick has an unusual amount of authenticity, enthusiasm, and theatrics. Physically behind the group is a set of plain curtains: No cheesy jumbo screens with clips of the band in its heyday, no backing tracks playing over the PA, and other than the fact that Steve Miller himself was the only original member of the band still onstage, there were really no elements of a stage show being put on by bands and artists trying to stay relevant.

At 8:15 p.m., Miller—clad in a black button down with white stripes—walked onstage with a creme Fender Strat. “Let’s get to it,” he began before launching into “Stranger Blues.” A few verses in, he began to shred his Strat, utterly effortlessly, for what would turn out to be a trio of solos before the last note on that song was struck. He showed off again minutes later, while getting “Fly Like An Eagle” out of the way, but with some whimsical virtuosity from keyboardist Joseph Wooten sandwiched between his two solos.

click to enlarge Review: Steve Miller Band satisfies sugar babes and midnight tokers alike at Tampa Hard Rock (2)
Photo by Josh Bradley

Don’t worry, Miller dusted off “Abracadabra,” and followed it with “Livin’ In The USA,” introducing it with how the insanity we live in isn’t anything new. “It was just as crazy in 1968,” he remarked. It may have felt like a serious moment, but everyone got a big laugh out of the final seconds of the Boz Scaggs-era song.

“Somebody get me a cheeseburger!” He howled. The demand is in the original recording, but it still catches you off guard every time.

Miller then intentionally “bookended” it with “Space Cowboy,” the only character referenced in the first few bars of “The Joker” individually acknowledged in the 90-minute set. “I told you 'bout living in the US of A,” he sang.

Despite getting to witness a man who will celebrate his 80th birthday in 2023 shred the axe like he’s in his 20s, perhaps the most fascinating moment of the night was when Miller presented a very important piece of his guitar collection, which just spent some time as a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Instruments of Rock & Roll” exhibit. It was a Coral Sitar, Model 3S19, which he went into the basic mechanics of. Nineteen strings, simulated alligator skin, six knobs, and a pickguard mounted on the strings. “I have no idea why, but it’s nice to know that it’s there,” he said. Appropriately, Miller and the band ripped into “Wild Mountain Honey,” which he recorded with that very same sitar in the mid-‘70s.

After the acoustic twangfest that was “Dance, Dance, Dance,” (no, not the Beach Boys song, you purist.) Miller got a boomer dance party going by swinging into “Swingtown,” followed by “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma,” described as a song that has “got some kick to it.”

Then came every other hit that hadn’t already been illuminated: Latter-day “Everybody Loves Raymond” theme song “Jungle Love,” the criminative “Take The Money And Run,” and of course, everyone’s favorite driving song, “Rock’n Me” to close up the main set. “Do you think he’s gonna play ‘The Joker?’” a concertgoer asked me from behind during the encore break.

click to enlarge Review: Steve Miller Band satisfies sugar babes and midnight tokers alike at Tampa Hard Rock (3)
Photo by Josh Bradley

Not only did the band come back out to play the smash hit, but Steve did his guitar work—including the wolf whistles—on a sparkly blue Semi-Tele, designed by John Bolin. “At first, I thought it was a bit much,” he admitted. “But now that I’ve seen pictures of it, I could use some more.” Truthfully, the latter portion of that remark had to mirror how everyone felt about the set that felt far too short.

Time keeps on slippin’, but luckily, Miller’s oomph-filled chops remain. If only Les could see him now.

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
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