Steve Miller brings classic rock to campus

The Thornton School of Music continued its 125th anniversary celebration on Friday, offering students a taste of classic rock history with the Steve Miller Band at Bovard Auditorium.

The Steve Miller Band, which is greatly admired by multiple generations of rock fans, was an appropriate selection for Thornton’s concert presentation. Although the audience was mostly of families — the concert was part of USC’s Parents Weekend — as well as older rock fans from the general public, the balconies were filled with students who were able to secure tickets.

The joker · Steve Miller performs for classic rock fans at Bovard Friday with his band in celebration of the Thornton School of Music’s 125th anniversary. The concert also featured acts from Thornton students. - Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy | Daily Trojan

The joker · Steve Miller performs for classic rock fans at Bovard Friday with his band in celebration of the Thornton School of Music’s 125th anniversary. The concert also featured acts from Thornton students. - Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy | Daily Trojan

Before Steve Miller appeared on stage, Robert Cutietta, dean of the Thornton School of Music, addressed the audience, noting that music is a language everyone is able to understand “but only a few can speak eloquently.” It was an appropriate introduction for a night of impressive musical performances.

After a pair of acts from Thornton students — one including an enchanting electric violin — Steve Miller and his band took the stage. It’s tough to expect a riveting show from a group of older musicians, and the band failed to deliver the energy the audience seemed to be craving. The songs were all technically spot-on, but Miller did not bring much passion or emotion to his performance.

In fact, Miller’s personal performance was unexpectedly subdued. He was very focused on his music and hardly acknowledged the audience.

The rest of his band was even more disengaged. The bassist wore all black with a black cowboy hat and the drummer donned sunglasses, both of which seemed to indicate their desire to simply fade into the background.

Indeed, the greatest enthusiasm came from backup singer Sonny Charles. Charles’ blues vocals were a solid accompaniment to Miller’s crisp lead, but his theatrics on stage were incredibly distracting.

Throughout the entire performance, Charles danced around awkwardly on stage, pandering to audience and practically begging for attention. There were some moments when it was difficult to concentrate on Miller or the music because Charles’ eagerness was so comedic.

The set list consisted primarily of the group’s greatest hits. The band began with “Swingtown,” then followed with the catchy “Abracadabra,” during which the members invited Johnson to help them play. Next came slower songs, including “Serenade” and “The Stake.”

When Miller finally addressed the audience, he made a dedication to his old friend and mentor, the legendary performer and inventor, Les Paul. Paul died in August and had previously asked Miller to perform “Nature Boy” at his funeral — Miller then sang the song alone with his guitar in the night’s most touching moment.

Finally came the audience favorite: “The Joker.”

The band ended the night with “Take the Money and Run” and “Rock’n Me,” featuring backup vocals from four female Thornton singers. For the encore, Associate Dean for External Relations Christopher Sampson joined the band for crowd favorites “Threshold” and “Jet Airliner,” which brought the audience to its feet.

The concert may not have been particularly exceptional, but Miller did well in acknowledging the importance of the next generation of student musicians. One of his more endearing moments came when he gave a little lecture from “Uncle Steve” about the importance of holding on to publishing rights for any songs they write, concluding with “that’s your tip of the day, kids.”

Thanks for stopping by, Uncle Steve — we enjoyed having you.

4 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    I’m not sure what you look for in bands, Amy. But perhaps you want hotter, younger acts. Well, Steve Miller may not be for you. However, you cannot discount the enthusiasm of Sonny Charles. Even decades into his career, Steve Miller still sounds like he did on the recordings. His voice and guitar playing are spot on. That alone should garner a solid review. The stage show was excellent considering the tiny stage and his incorporation of up-and-coming musicians, including a 14-year-old, which certainly put him out of his element. I think he handled things like a pro.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like the show, but you may have been the only one. Did you see faces on both parents and kids after that one?

  2. Cristen
    Cristen says:

    I agree with Lauren; the show was incredible! Maybe you didn’t have an awesome time, but everyone I saw there did. Such enthusiasm…I had never actively listened to them before that, and I couldn’t believe how much fun I had! Fight on Steve Miller :)

  3. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Amy, I’m almost thinking you weren’t at the right concert… Friday night was an amazing show – people were up on their feet dancing, cheering, clapping along with the band. The passion and emotion was definitely there, and he took real time to speak to the students and younger members in the audience.

    I’ll agree the drummer and pianist were a little disengaged, but who cares – Charles was great- dancing his heart out the whole show and acknowledging fans with some hand grabs. A little over the top, but genuinely fun.

    Miller’s story about Les Paul, his personal experiences in the music industry, and speaking directly to student musicians in the audience were all engaging and showed the legend’s genuine desire to be there and share his music with the fans.

    FYI – Students could get tickets at all levels, not just the balcony. I was sitting on the floor in the center section… for $10. I grew up listening to and loving Steve Miller Band but this was the first time I’d ever seen him live. I thought it was truly a great show and an UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME opportunity to see a huge music legend in an intimate venue for a TINY price. 5 stars from me. Thank you Thornton!

  4. Chris Sampson
    Chris Sampson says:

    A few corrections to the article above:

    1. Dean Cutietta did not address the audience. That was KLOS DJ, Joe Benson. Joe Benson acknowledged the Dean from the stage during the opening of the show and Dean Cutietta was in the audience.

    2. The encore song that I played on was “Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, not “Threshold”.

    It’s unfortunate that you neglected to mention that Mr. Miller, his band and his entire crew donated their time and talents so that all proceeds from the concert would benefit the Thornton School of Music. This level of generousity, particularly when he included USC student performers into the show, is rare from any professional artist, but particularly from one of Mr. Miller’s stature. Just a little bit of research prior to writing the article would have provided these insights and a better context in which the concert was presented.

    Mr. Miller is a tremendous friend and supporter of USC and of the Thornton School and we are extremely grateful for his time in donating these two outstanding concerts.

    Best regards,

    Chris Sampson
    Associate Dean
    USC Thornton School of Music

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