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.
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.