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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Miller christened the new BMO Harris Pavilion Wednesday night.
Miller christened the new BMO Harris Pavilion Wednesday night.
He sounded crisp, warm and inviting ...
He sounded crisp, warm and inviting ...
... but the blues portion of the set put the audience back into its seat.
... but the blues portion of the set put the audience back into its seat.
Miller talked about playing Summerfest in the '70s and called the venue one of his favorite places to place.
Miller talked about playing Summerfest in the '70s and called the venue one of his favorite places to place.
At 68 years old and decked out in business-casual classic rock garb and sunglasses, Miller might look like your boss jamming at a picnic, but he sounds great.
At 68 years old and decked out in business-casual classic rock garb and sunglasses, Miller might look like your boss jamming at a picnic, but he sounds great.
"The Joker" felt as nice as the first time I heard it.
"The Joker" felt as nice as the first time I heard it.

Steve Miller Band a smooth, safe gamble for new stage debut

As Steve Miller's best material is pushing 40 years old, it's somewhat telling that he headlined the Marcus Amphitheater in 2008, and Wednesday, he opened Summerfest at the brand new BMO Harris Pavilion.

To me, that says one of two things: Either the Tosa native wasn't big enough to headline the Amp in '08, or this new side stage is big-time enough to land acts that previously, fans had to pay big money to see.

I'll let someone else make that call, but having seen and reviewed Miller now twice in four years, I can say that this classic rock band, when it's doing what it does best, still gets people on their feet. Is the music safe, pitch-perfect recreations of the '70s album rock we've all heard a million times? Sure. Is it fun, summer music with a Wisconsin connection? Absolutely.

This spring, the Steve Miller Band released "Let Your Hair Down," so tonight's show wasn't strictly an oldies act. While Miller has continued to record steadily – albeit less frequently – since his 1968 debut, "Children of the Future," everyone in attendance was at Summerfest tonight to hear the hits.

Songs like "Jungle Love," "Take The Money And Run," "Abracadabra," "Fly Like an Eagle" and more, which Miller breezily nailed with aplomb. The first two tunes were a little rocky, but by the third, Miller was locked in. It was nice, too, to hear him talk about a Summerfest performance in 1974, as well as his relationship with the late Les Paul.

The only problem with the two-hour show was the middle section, where Miller got so bluesy he took the wind out of the crowd's sails. Yes, this audience was older than most shows I've seen at Summerfest, and it also featured the most sitting I've ever seen. I saw some people even leaving before it was over.

Also, Miller featured a backup singer who's cheesy dance moves were both sincere but a little distracting. His voice was excellent on the songs he led (while Miller played lead guitar), but it felt like a little much.

Miller closed with "Jet Airliner" and "Rockin' Me," before an encore that included "Swingtown," "Space Cowboy" and "The Joker." I was especially happy to hear "Space Cowboy," which is not "The Joker," but is my favorite of Miller's songs – and one he didn't play last time I saw him. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best version I've ever heard, but "The Joker" felt as nice as the first time I heard it.

Miller also mixed in a few covers, including "Tramp" by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas.

At 68 years old and decked out in business-casual classic rock garb and sunglasses, Miller might look like your boss jamming at the company picnic, but he sounds just as good as ever.

In all, it was a nice, reliable start to this year's Summerfest, but I was more excited to see this new stage. It's amazing that after all these years, the Big Gig continues to reinvent itself, and the BMO Harris Pavilion is well laid-out enough to stand on its own, even outside of Summerfest. With actual recessed seats, it felt like a smaller, more intimate Marcus Amphitheater – but it also got mighty hot tonight and could've used some fans.

The bleachers that no one sits on remain a pet peeve of mine, but the concept of reserved seating for a side stage is a good one. As usual, the acoustics and sound shaping at Summerfest is second to none.

Not perfect nor sold out, but certainly enjoyable, Miller – like Summerfest as a whole – was warm, inviting and familiar tonight. That's good enough for me.

Set list:

Jungle Love
Take The Money And Run
The Stake
Abracadabra
Further On Up The Road
Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
Tramp
I Want To Make The World Turn Around
Serenade
Wild Mountain Honey
Dance Dance Dance
The Window
Livin' In The USA
All Your Love (I Miss Loving)
Fly Like An Eagle
Jet Airliner
Rockin' Me

Encore:

Swingtown
Space Cowboy
The Joker

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