Gerald Johnson - bass; John King - drums; Steve Miller - lead vocals, guitars, harmonica; Dickie Thompson - keyboards
Few groups that established themselves in the 1960s survived the transition into the 1970s better than the Steve Miller Band. Like many of the San Francisco bands, they were initially a young blues band that developed into one of the pioneers of the psychedelic rock scene, releasing increasingly adventurous albums and becoming a favorite at the Fillmores and the rock club scene throughout America. Following numerous personnel and stylistic changes between 1966 and 1972, Steve Miller finally hit big in 1973 with his eighth album, The Joker, which marked yet another significant change for the group. Gone were the psychedelic explorations and lengthy blues jams of the past, and in their place was a more melodic, smooth rock sound. Past influences, like the blues in particular, were still part of the group's flavor, but Miller was now playing much more acoustic guitar and the songs were often paired down to essential elements. This new approach gave Miller his first solid commercial success, due in no small part to the extensive radio play of the title track.
When the Steve Miller Band took to the stage of Manhattan's Palace Theatre to perform this set for a Don Kirchner's Rock Concert television show taping, it was right at the point that The Joker album was taking off. The performance contains a significant portion of this breakthrough album in a live context, as well as a few vintage classics and a preview of the things still yet to come.
The set opens and closes with two of Miller's most memorable classics, "Space Cowboy" and "Living In The U.S.A. "Space Cowboy" kicks things off, and longtime fans will discover that Miller has updated some of the lyrics here. Between the opener and closer is an excellent cross-section of material from The Joker album, when it was all still fresh and new to audiences. There is the bluesy shuffle of "Mary Lou," the storytelling rocker, "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash," and the nonsensical but infectious, "Sha Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma," a funky keyboard dominated number. Miller also tones things down for a brief acoustic set, which includes the new album's title song, as well as two older favorites, "Seasons" (not recorded) and "Kow Kow Caqulator." Fans of Miller's pure blues era will also be delighted by "Piece Of Mind," which recalls the earliest days of the band.
One of the most interesting performances here is an embryonic rendition of "Fly Like An Eagle," which is considerably different and in many ways more satisfying than the familiar synth-heavy take he would later record. At this early stage, the song recalls the psychedelic music Miller was making in the 1968-69 era, with plenty of electric guitar processed through delay units and a much punchier rhythmic approach that recalls "My Dark Hour."
Which leaves the set-closing "Living In The U.S.A." Originally an underground anthem circa 1968, when it was clearly aimed at social injustice and the administration sending America's youth off to fight in a senseless war in Vietnam, here the song takes on additional significance in light of the Watergate scandal. Miller even dedicates the song to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, before launching into "The Star Spangled Banner" as a prelude to the song proper. All told, it clocks in at nearly eight minutes and provides a memorable ending to a classic set.