When Capitol put out its 30th anniversary edition of Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle two years ago, it included a full-length concert DVD culled from the in-concert video feed of a 2005 concert, and featuring guest appearances from Joe Satriani and George Thorogood. Owning that package stole a little of the thunder of this one for me. What sets this new two-disc DVD apart, though, is that it was made to be a commercial DVD release, and as such both the audio and video are spectacular. Clearly, no expense was spared—you’ve got multiple angles, cameras that sweep over the audience, crowd reaction shots, a perfect mix by a top engineer; everything is top-of-the-line.
So is the performance by Miller’s band at the beautiful Ravinia Festival amphitheater just outside of Chicago. Miller has close ties to the Windy City. You could say it’s where he came of age as a musician in the 1960s (before moving during the psychedelic era to San Francisco, where he signed with Capitol and became a recording star). And though he is best known for his amazing string of pop-rock hits through the 1970s, don’t forget that his roots are solidly in Chicago blues (and that his first real success came fronting the Steve Miller Blues Band). He’s always made a point of including a generous helping a blues in his shows and giving shout-outs to some of his influences, and this one is no exception—in mid-set he offers up searing, Strat-driven versions of K.C. Douglas’ “Mercury Blues,” Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and Otis Rush’s great “All Your Lovin’.” Miller has got serious blues guitar chops, and the rest of his band acquit themselves very well in this area, too: the inimitable Norton Buffalo on harmonica and vocals, outstanding second guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis, bassist Billy Peterson, drummer Gordy Knudtson and keyboardist Joseph Wooten. A 20-minute documentary on Disc Two of the set emphasizes Miller’s blues roots: We see Miller, in the back seat of a car with San Francisco Chronicle music writer Joel Selvin (who also wrote the informative liner notes), visiting some of his old haunts in Chicago, and talking about the musicians he admired growing up. Fascinating stuff.
But let’s face it, most of the folks who will scoop up this DVD are more interested in the hits than the blues, and this DVD certainly delivers in that regard, too. It opens with an expansive, jammy 15-minute version of “Fly Like an Eagle” that gives Miller and his mates a chance to stretch out (it’s marred slightly by a pointless rap by Wooten), and then it offers up pretty much an entire Greatest Hits collection, from early nuggets like “Living in the USA” to the cavalcade of smashes from the ’70s—“The Joker,” “Rock ’N Me,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Swingtown,” “Jungle Love” and “Jet Airliner.” Personally, I would be happy if I never had to hear “Rock ’N Me” or the lamentable “Abracadabra” again, but a hit is a hit, I suppose. Much more to my liking are some of the more obscure (if you can say that about any song on mega-Platinum albums)—“Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Wild Mountain Honey” and the beautiful “Serenade.”
Besides the documentary, the second disc also includes a photo gallery and a full radio program put together by Joel Selvin, and a third, audio-only disc features 12 of the 20 songs from the DVD, though not the aforementioned blues tracks. All in all this set is quite a bargain; definitely a keeper.
Director: Daniel E. Catullo III. Recorded by Effanel Recording/Randy Ezratty and Joel Singer. Mixed by Andy Johns.
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