Collectively, the triple bill at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Saturday night had a good 120-plus years of touring and performing under their belts. Journey, Steve Miller Band and Tower of Power packed the pavilion and lawn for more than four hours of music.
Steve Miller was the big surprise, delivering a great show that advanced nicely and then unexpectedly exploded in the final stretch.
His hit “The Joker” set the crowd off for good, bringing everyone to their feet, his slide guitar raising the tune and crowd another notch. It was 40 years since he first sang that song, he told us. He followed with “Swingtown,” which sustained the momentum. He cut the song a little short, as he did many through the night. During “Rock’n Me,” a dozen or so humongous balloons came from backstage into the audience which both excited and distracted the music.
The night could have ended here with an ecstatic crowd, but he topped it with “Jet Airliner” and then a cool, spacey “Fly Like an Eagle.”
Miller is a cool dude on stage — “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker, I sure don’t want to hurt no one” — understating his vocals and barely moving his body, even when wailing on the guitar. His voice is still smooth at 70, but it did not project with that youthful clarity we know from the records.
He played a slew of other hits, including opener “Jungle Love,” “Take the Money and Run,” and “Space Cowboy.” He had a solid and sparse rock band of four players, Miller carrying the heavy guitar work himself.
The band left the stage for Miller to play a few acoustic tunes alone — “the campfire part of the show.” He sang “Wild Mountain Honey,” “Gangster of Love,” which he said he wrote at age 13, and “True Fine Love.”
Before leaving the stage, he talked about the three bands all originating from the San Francisco area, all players at the Fillmore West in the late ’60s. “All kinds of music, all different styles, coming together here. That’s what’s special about tonight.”
If Miller’s songs leaned on the intimate side for a SPAC-sized show, Journey’s songs, most of them anthem, sized—are built for arena-rock, if not bigger.
They came out with guns ablazing: “Separate Ways,” “Anyway you Want It,” and “Only the Young.”
While Neal Schon plays the patriarch on stage, vocalist Arnel Pineda is the front man. Enough has been said about this phenomenon, the most unlikely person you’d ever guess to front Journey. But it needs to be said that he’s fantastic; you cannot take your eyes off of him. He is physically reckless, punching and kicking the air ecstatically, singing from his knees, jumping like a nut, his trendy haircut whizzing around. He laughs humbly after every song. He has been with the band seven years now, but it feels like he’s living his dream every minute on stage.
Early in the show, Schon played a Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner on guitar, U.S. flag images waving on the big screen, stirring the crowd into a patriotic fervor.
The crowd sat through several new tunes, but were back on their feet for the ballads, like “Lights,” the cellphones held high for this one, and the larger-than-life “Open Arms.”
They stayed on their feet through the finish line with “Wheel In the Sky,” “Faithfully” and “Don’t Stop Believen’.”
Tower of Power opened the show with a short 35-minute set. Their soul, and rhythm and blues music, punched by a forceful horn section — five horns — opened the night well. Unfortunately, the pavilion was pretty empty at the time and the band’s energy, as strong as it was, was lost to a crowd not yet prepared to listen. The perils of an opening act with a triple-play show.