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Steve Miller Band brings classic rock jams to MTS Centre

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

Steve Miller Band rocks the house at MTS Centre in Winnipeg Friday, April 4.

The Steve Miller Band doesn’t exactly have a small catalogue to pull from. The blues-rock titans’ discography spans over four decades and includes 18 studio albums (including a Miller solo effort), three live albums, seven greatest hits packages and 30 singles.

And SMB is still making music; after a 17-year recording hiatus, the band released 2010’s Bingo!, which was immediately followed up with 2011’s Let Your Hair Down just 10 months later.

Even so, Miller, 70, knows his bread and butter. For Friday night’s show at the MTS Centre, the Milwaukee-born guitar slinger hung close to the hits from his mid-’70s heyday, treating 5,500 fans to the songs that have become staples of classic rock radio. (There’s a reason SMB’s Greatest Hits: 1974-1978 package is its biggest-selling album in North America.)

Taking the spartan stage promptly at 8:45 p.m., the Steve Miller Band kicked things off with Jungle Love, off 1977’s Book of Dreams before heading right on into Swingtown — which got those on the floor on their feet.

The crowd didn’t have to wait long for Take The Money and Run — the feel good summertime pop hit from 1976’s Fly Like an Eagle — which appeared three songs in and featured a blazing solo courtesy of keyboardist Joseph "Hands of Soul" Wooten. Living in the U.S.A followed, bringing with it the night’s first scorching guitar solo.

Indeed, there was no shortage of guitar heroics on display, and the Steve Miller Band is comfortable letting its estimable musicianship do the talking. There was no arena-rock bombast; the show felt more like a loose, blues-bar jam. During the sexy, slinky The Stake, the band looked like it was having the time of its life.

Soul legend Sonny Charles (ex-Checkmates), who joined the Steve Miller Band in 2008, stole the show when he took over the mic for Ooh Poo Pah Doo and Further Up on the Road, eliciting the biggest crowd response of the night. In addition to a huge, arena-filling voice, the guy’s got some sweet dance moves, too.

Mid set saw SMB delve into 1973’s landmark The Joker, with the hat-trick of Mary Lou, Sugar Babe and a funked-out take on single Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma.

 "This is the campfire portion of the show," Miller said after Dance, Dance, Dance before taking a seat and serenading the room with a short solo-acoustic mini set that included Wild Mountain Honey, Gangster of Love, True Fine Love and The Lovin’ Cup. It was the jewel of the show, proving that Miller’s voice has stood the test of time.

Miller was re-joined by his band — and, regrettably, a giant version of the terrifying mask from The Joker album cover — for the title track. The mask’s lips moved like the badly dubbed cartoon character from your nightmares during the chorus and was awkwardly wheeled out when the song was over. It was kind of a WTF moment that distracted from what was one of the night’s biggest songs.

SMB saved the best for last, though, jamming out Rock’n Me — which had everyone in the house singing and clapping along — and the riff-rocking Jet Airliner. The hour-and-45-minute set closed, of course, with an extended, psychedelic Fly Like an Eagle.

The vibe of the room was often that of a polite, sit-down show, which brought the overall energy in the room down a bit. Still, it was refreshing to be at a concert — and this was a concert in every sense of the word — at which people were there for the music.

Eighteen-year-old blues guitar wunderkind Matthew Curry — and his band, The Fury — opened the show with a set that also had no shortage of flying fingers. Like Jonny Lang before him, the Illinois native has got a voice that belies his young years and, like the headliner, his solos never came at the expense of hooks; If I Don’t Got You, the title track from his 2011 debut, is as tight as they come. While his compositions feel a little blues-by-the-numbers, his virtuosity is undeniable.

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