Steve Miller Band
The Doobie Brothers

June 20, 2013
Greek Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette

The Steve Miller Band and Doobie Brothers were no strangers to radio land back in the hazy 70s. Nowadays, they’re road warriors. So putting the two together seems like a novel, enticing idea — at least in the case of their stand at the Greek, which was a solid sell-out. Just goes to show that even on a Thursday night, music fans will come from far and wide to hear vintage rock legends, especially when there’s two of ‘em on the same stage on the same night.

Two bands and a strict curfew kept it punctual with the Doobies walking on stage at precisely 7:30, the strains of Robert Johnson weaving in and out as they strapped in and lifted off. The seven-piece group started in with three of their many hits, the much-covered Arthur Reid Reynolds gospel tune “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “Rockin' Down The Highway” and “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While).” The guitar trio of Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee pretty much lead the way, as the rest of the band pitched in to tighten up those catchy arrangements everyone knows and loves so well.

“World Gone Crazy,” the title track from the Doobies’ last studio album, hinted at a more gospel feel from keyboardist Guy Allison, with saxophonist Mark Russo and McFee each taking solos to the outer limits. Indeed, you cannot deny the Doobies’ brand of musicality reinforced by solid, able-bodied musicianship. McFee’s feel on pedal steel gave “South City Midnight Lady” an easy sheen, while Simmons and bassist John Cowan both kicked “Takin’ It To The Streets” into the next block.

They dedicated Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don't Start Me Talkin'” to Steve Miller, providing extended solo opportunities for Johnston, Simmons and McFee to all dip their wicks in. McFee, clearly the multi-instrumentalist of the bunch, played the opening lines on a violin for “Black Water,” the Doobie’s first Number One from 1974, and Simmons plied the audience by changing the lyrics slightly, with the “Mississippi moon” becoming the “California” and “Los Angeles” moon. It all fit the mood and vibe of the Greek to a tee.

They finished up with a crowd-pleasing-on-their-feet “Long Train Runnin'” and returned for an encore of “China Grove” and “Listen To The Music.” It wasn’t even 9:00 yet, and the Greek was sweltering from the energy the Doobie Brothers brought. They’ve suffered their shares of losses and mishaps over the years, but have somehow endured as a keen reminder of a time when free n’ easy rock and roll was the medicine of our youth.

A short break later, the lights dimmed and the cover of the Steve Miller Band’s The Joker graced the venue’s video screens. At once, the curtain dropped and there was Steve Miller, his five-piece band, and an eerie backdrop of…ears. Now this was something wildly different from the previous waterfall of guitars backdrop, indicating some sort of cosmic connection with the “sound” of the Steve Miller Band, perhaps. Sorry, that’s the best I can come up with.

As is custom at Steve Miller Band concerts, they are predisposed to play a wide range of obligatory hits. “Jungle Love,” “Take The Money And Run” and “Abracadabra” were slotted in early to stir the natives up from their behinds. Miller continues to graciously hand the reigns over to Sonny Charles, the soulful Checkmates singer whose moves and gyrations on “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” got the first 20 rows eagerly excitable.

From there, Miller turned his focus to The Joker, his break-out album celebrating its 40th anniversary. In unprecedented fashion, an exploration of the album’s deeper cuts took place, with the rarely played “Mary Lou,” “Sugar Babe,” “Something To Believe In” and “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma,” all rolled out in quick succession. Miller even pulled out his Joker guitar with, what he said, “One knob, one pickup, to go one way: Hot.” Hearing these songs was unquestionably the highlight of the evening.

But the Joker had more up his sleeve. Miller took up an acoustic for lively solo renditions of “Wild Mountain Honey,” “Gangster Of Love,” and “Dance Dance Dance.” At one point, he brought out his banker, Jeff Kearns, who sat before a pedal steel, which took five minutes or so to rev up due to technical difficulties. Ever the pro, Miller breezed through it and the night opened up to even more possibilities. Kearns turned out to be a helluva steel player too.

At various times, Miller got reflective about his career. He said he played San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore West 120 times, more than anyone else. Then he dedicated a song to Carlos Santana, who probably played the Fillmore almost as many times. There were also tributes to original Steve Miller Band bassist Lonnie Turner, who passed away in April, and Norton Buffalo, gone since 2009. It makes you realize that guys like Steve Miller won’t be around forever, so you have to get out to see them while you can.

The band fell in with “Fly Like An Eagle,” featuring an enterprising keyboard solo from Joseph Wooten, along with “Jet Airliner” and “Rock'n Me” to complete the main set. An extended encore of “Serenade,” “Space Cowboy,” and “The Joker” brought the night to a rousing close.

Having seen the Steve Miller Band four times in the last three years, I was hoping for some variations in the set, and was overjoyed to see (and hear) a few unexpected detours on what’s ordinarily a safe, somewhat predictable journey. When you consider the breadth and history of the Steve Miller Band, it’s refreshing to take the passageways to those roads less traveled.

 

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