Last Night: The Steve Miller Band at The Woodlands Pavilion

Kenny Lee Lewis, Ron Wisko, and Steve Miller
Kenny Lee Lewis, Ron Wisko, and Steve Miller Photo by Jennifer Lake
He’s the man with Classic Rock’s greatest identity crisis. Some people call him the Space Cowboy and some the Gangster of Love. He’s a Joker, Smoker and a Midnight Toker. He’s even known by the seemingly benign moniker of “Maurice.”

But what Steve Miller is not is A Guy Who Phones It In. This night found the now 79-year-old’s voice sounding shockingly nearly identical to all those records all those years ago, and his guitar playing fluid and solid all night.
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Ron Wisko, Kenny Lee Lewis, Steve Miller, and Jacob Petesen
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Oh, and he seemed to be having a genuinely good time. Lots of smiles and joy. That clearly translated to an enthusiastic audience who spent much of the evening on their feet.

Steve Miller is also a People Pleaser. For while he does throw in an occasional blues cover or deep cut on the set list, he mostly sticks to the tried-and-true singalong hits that made him FM Rock Royalty for most of the 1970s (with a toe-dip into the ‘80s). In fact, the most recent song on this set list (“Abracadabra”) was more than 40 years old.
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The Steve Miller Band with a variation on their familiar "Pegasus" logo
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Many of the show’s highlights weren’t necessarily his better-known hits. A chugging “The Stake” featured an expansive guitar solo. “Wild Mountain Honey” proved a swirling psychedelic journey. “Space Cowboy” and “Serenade” scored as well.

Of the hits, “Take the Money and Run” and show closer “Rock ‘n Me” crackled with energy, despite Miller having likely trotted them out hundreds of times before. And though an electric version of “Jet Airliner” got fists pumping, it was a second, slowed-down acoustic version that segued into the country party of “Dance Dance Dance” that took the familiar material and did something special and interesting with it.
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Joseph Wooten and Jacob Petersen
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Miller prefaced the electric version as a tribute to the late guitar pioneer Les Paul. Not only was the esteemed inventor Miller’s godfather, in 1949 he married wife/performing partner Mary Ford in the Miller’s living room—with Steve’s parents serving as Best Man and Matron of Honor! Still, he noted that he had to “earn” the right to play a Les Paul guitar, regardless of a seeming shortcut that might be afforded him.

More than ably backing the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was his crack band: Kenny Lee Lewis (bass), Joseph Wooten (keyboards), Jacob Petersen (guitar) and Ron Wisko (drums). Wooten in particular got to shine with spacey keyboard parts on “Fly Like an Eagle.”

Miller’s last studio album was 2011’s blues covers effort Let Your Hair Down. But he continues to mine the vaults with the just-announced 50th anniversary box set of his breakthrough album, 1973’s The Joker (Sailor/Capitol/UME). The 2CD/3LP set will be released on September 15 and features the original record plus demos, outtakes, live cuts and audio commentary with extensive liner notes.
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Christone "Kingfish" Ingram and his band
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Opening the show was Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and his group. The now-24-year-old singer/guitarist is one of the hottest blues acts today. His second record, 2021’s 662, won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Record. The Houston Press spoke with him when it came out.

His set was full of flash and fire and jaw-dropping guitar work. Highlights included “Fresh Out,” “Long Distance Woman,” “Midnight Heat” and “662.” The last is the title track of his most recent album and the area code of his hometown in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Not coincidentally, an important place in Delta Blues history.

In an especially cool moment, Miller brought Ingram back out onstage mid-set to play guitar in a burning three-song set of classic blues covers, including a hot “Blues with a Feeling” and livewire “Tore Down” in which the two joyously traded licks.

Miller told a story about visiting the tiny Delta Blues Museum in the city, in awe of artifacts from all of the genre’s giants that he played with at about the same age as Ingram is today. Giants like like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton. It was a clear passing-of-the-torch moment as Miller practically gushed over Ingram’s skill and dedication to the music, telling everyone to “follow his career!”

At concert’s end, a genuinely moved Steve Miller thanked the audience for their “decades” of support and appreciation of his music. And in turn, the gratitude from concertgoers was definitely reciprocal.
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Steve Miller
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Random Notebook Dump
Must give a shout out to my Plus One, Billy Ryan (whose favorite song was not “Abracadabra”). His last trip to The Woodlands for a concert was almost exactly 30 years ago on July 17, 1993 to see Aerosmith on the Get a Grip tour (and yes, I was with him then…). This particularly gig was noteworthy because it was the last show that opener Megadeth did. They were kicked off the tour before the next night’s gig in Dallas. The thrash group’s singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine had badmouthed Steven Tyler and the band during a radio interview.

And the Concertgoer Hall of Shame Award Goes To…
You, blond lady in the spaghetti strap blouse in front of me. Sure, all of us were enthralled by your constant swishy dancing, the many arm wavings and finger pointings, and dramatic mouth-moving lyrical interpretations. But fer chrissakes, why take so, so much video of…the video screens. And then so much of yourself singing so many songs? You’ll never watch all of that footage—or the additional video shot by your husband.

Final Classic Rock Bob Thought
I can’t help but feel a little wistful at every Classic Rock show I go to these days since so many acts are either on their proclaimed “final tour” (nomenclature that will likely stick this time) or are curtailing their road activities due to the passage of time.

How many more chances will fans have to see the now 79-year-old Miller on stage? Or, for that matter, his same-aged friend, ex-bandmate, and former St. Marks of Dallas schoolmate Boz Scaggs, in town just a week ago himself? Sometimes, we tend to think we’ll always have a chance to see acts “the next time” they’re in town. But oftentimes, there is no next time (and I learned the hard way with Tom Petty). See your legends now.

The Stake
True Fine Love
Jet Airliner
Caress Me Baby (with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram)
Blues with a Feeling  (with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram)
Tore Down  (with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram)
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Jet Airliner (acoustic)
Dance, Dance, Dance
Living in the U.S.A
Space Cowboy
Jungle Love
Take the Money and Run

The Joker
Rock ‘n Me
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero