MANSFIELD -- For pop fans of a certain age, summer just isn't summer if Steve Miller's classic-rock perennials ''Jet Airliner" and ''Rock 'N Me" aren't blasting from a car radio or a beach boardwalk. Though Miller hasn't released an album of new material since 1993 -- and hasn't had a hit in more than two decades -- that mattered little to the voraciously nostalgic, hit-happy throng that packed the Tweeter Center last night. They were there to hear the golden-age, gold records of their youth, and that's what Miller gave them and more, delving deep into 1968's ''Gangster of Love," and paying homage to his guitar hero and early blues-rock roots with a pungent reading of Texas bluesman's Freddie King's ''I'm Tore Down."
Although ''time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future" -- to quote a line from 1976's ''Fly Like an Eagle" -- it can indeed stand still as memory, instantaneously summoned and suspended forever inside a timeless pop song. After all, that's what makes a tune timeless. Miller, midnight-toking joker that he may be, is shrewd about such things.
During the '70s salad days of a recording career that stretches back nearly 40 years -- the Space Cowboy's nearly as old as the Stones now -- Miller understood the allure of a groovy hook and catchy chorus, producing a slew of sunnily stoned anthems that good-naturedly goosed listeners to indulge their hedonistic fantasies: go ahead, take the money and run; fly like an eagle; ride that jet airliner home to freedom. Liberation, escape, having a blast and getting away with it -- these are themes at the crux of the singer-guitarist's best, most exhilarating songs, and they're what Miller and his five-piece band delivered last night.
The hits came fast and sure, with the breezy yet muscular groove of ''Swingtown" opening the set, and, thankfully, the obligatory but silly hocus-pocus lowlight, ''Abracadabra," being dispensed with early before Miller moved on to the jukebox monsters. ''Take the Money and Run," ''Rock 'N Me" (unfortunately dragged out to sing-along proportions), ''Jungle Love," ''Jet Airliner," and ''The Joker" pulsed and throbbed like a live radio wave piped from the stage. Miller, his light, rangy voice still as breezily sexy as the cool California coast, at one point brought out opener and Ratdog leader Bob Weir as a guest guitarist on ''Fly Like an Eagle," which transmogrified into an extended, inspired psychedelic jam, Fillmore East style. The moment -- replete with old-school solos from individual band members (Miller's guitarist, Kenny Lee Lewis, stole the spotlight with an astonishing solo display) -- was a potent reminder of Miller's early days, and how good they were.