By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer
If anybody understands how hard it is for Scott Miller's solo performances to measure up to those of his old band, the V-roys, it's Miller himself.
The Knoxville, Tenn.-based V-roys had an inordinate Cincinnati following compared to just about anywhere else in the country, and the group's area shows stand as part of local bar-band legend. But as a solo act, Miller has yet to put on a show in town that's talked about like those V-roys' gigs.
So when he returned Friday night to the Southgate House, the venue where most of those shows went down, he carried baggage. He revealed some of it with self-deprecating comments to the crowd like, "I don't know why in the hell you've been so good to me" and "I owe you another show for free." But if that wasn't singer-songwriter angst talking, it might have only been the liquor.
Because, really, the show wasn't that bad. It wasn't an all-out V-roys rock-fest, but over the course of the near-two-hour performance, it rocked from time to time in its own less-manic way.
Miller is the constant in the equation. His new three-piece backing band, the Commonwealth, just doesn't possess that old V-roys magic. Miller needs to whip the group into shape, as a few endings and other parts were botched, at times giving the performance a untidy feel.
But when he and the band broke into a rocker - like the V-roys' favorite "Cry," or "I Made a Mess of This Town," or the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" - the crowd would go nuts like in the V-roys days, and nobody cared if the drummer and guitarist couldn't agree on how the song ended.
Other high-energy highlights included the Chuck Berry-styled "It Didn't Take Too Long," from Miller's new album Upside Downside, which came out last month, and a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Janey, Don't You Lose Heart."
Miller did a solo-acoustic set in the middle of the show. Without a band there to trip him up, Miller breezed nicely through it. The two best moments were "Mary," another old V-roys tune, and "Highland County Boy," during which Miller took a seat behind the skins so he could simultaneously play harmonica and bass drum.
The Tarbox Ramblers, the opening band from Boston, rocked the country blues in a 45-minute set. Singer Michael Tarbox's toothless-bluesman vocal style bordered on caricature, but the music is so fun and the songs so timeless there isn't much to dislike.
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