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Published: 2008/06/20
by Brian Ferdman

Steve Miller Band: Live From Chicago

Coming Home Media CHM DV 7001

Toting elaborate and luxurious picnic spreads, scores of Steve Miller fans stream into Chicagos gorgeous Ravinia Amphitheatre, while we see Miller and his band backstage doing vocal warm-ups, singing scales as if they are about to perform a piece of musical theater. The band takes the stage, and Fly Like an Eagle is the first number. Its not bad, but around the nine-minute mark, the keyboard player, Joseph Wooten (brother of Victor), grabs the microphone and starts rapping.

Oh my God, my roommate intones. This sucks!

Now a baby boomers band with a rapper is bad enough, but this is the most sanitized, watered-down, edge-less, optimistic-enough-for-middle-aged-white people rap Ive ever heard. Its just shockingly bad. Let’s also not forget that the rap just feels incredibly out of place inside the trippy "Fly Like an Eagle."

Living in the USA is up next, but theres something not right here. It doesnt sound like the late 1960s San Francisco hit. Oh, I know what the problem is: the vocals.

Jesus, my roommate exclaims. He sounds awful!

Sadly, she is correct. Millers voice sounds terrible. While his popular hits from the 1970s were never known for mature vocals, now his singing sounds off-key, flat, passionless, and the notes are often way out of his range. To make matters worse, the vocals are far too present in the mix, shining a huge light on every obvious flaw. Its rough, and when Mercury Blues begins with a raunchy instrumental opening, I get hopeful until those hopes are crushed when Miller begins to sing.

The rest of the DVD continues along in this vein. The middle section is comprised of Miller’s milquetoast tribute to the blues, and while "Crossroads" sounds somewhat credible, the song expectedly plummets when Miller begins to squeal through the vocal parts. (The press release contains an interview where Miller discusses his treasured anonymity, mentioning an incident where no one recognized him when he sang his own songs in a Vancouver karaoke bar and was booed off the stage. After hearing him whine through his numbers here, I sympathize with those Vancouver barflies.)

All of the mid-1970s hits are here, and the entire event feels stilted and over-rehearsed. "Welcome to Swingtown," Miller shouts, as if we’re in an amusement park. Every speech and crowd interaction feels quite scripted, and it’s not until Wooten’s keyboard solo in "Take The Money and Run" that we find our first seemingly spontaneous moment. Nevertheless, the adoring crowd does not care.

The real shame here is that gobs of money have been spent on the production of this DVD. In truth, with its sweeping shots of the crowd, numerous camera angles, and vibrant color, this is one of the most beautiful-looking concert films these eyes have ever seen. Moreover, the packaging is both creative and attractive, housing a CD of the show and a bonus disc of an excellent interview with Miller as he travels his old Chicago neighborhood and talks passionately about his time under the wing of great blues legends, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and more. Of course, it’s so hard to imagine Miller jamming with those muscular titans when Miller sounds so neutered and bland today. Then again, his fans in the audience and those buying this DVD probably don’t care. As long as they get to hear that slide guitar during "The Joker," theyll feel right here, right here, right here, right here at home.

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