While running the risk of seeming antiquated and ridiculous, most aging rock n' roll bands continue to press on, attempting to recapture their glory days and all the youthful recklessness associated with those fabled days of yore. While some groups can pull this daunting feat off cleverly and peerlessly, most fail miserably and just look pitiful doing so.
So where does that leave Aerosmith, Boston’s band of sexually-charged raunch rockers who've been strutting their bare chests and scarf-covered mic stands across rock stages for the better part of 40 years now?
If last Tuesday night's spectacular showcase is any indication, the band has somehow managed to gloriously overcome all the hurdles and snags that seem to all-too-often plague similar elder statesmen rock bands.
Masters at engaging an audience and making them feel like part of the show, the band playfully engaged in mugging it up for backstage cameras that followed them before showtime and had the images beamed on a huge screen at the rear of the stage. It sounds a little cheesy and goofy, but it did the trick in getting the already loud crowd a little more fired up before the band actually appeared a little after 9 p.m.
And boy, were they loud when the band members actually strode onto the monstrous stage that flanked one entire end zone of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. An eager and respectably-sized crowd of 11,493 roared in delight when lead singer and showboat Steven Tyler and right-hand-man/lead guitarist Joe Perry were perched at the end of a giant catwalk/runway that extended to the center of the main floor. Tyler, donned in a bright red lamé flowing overcoat, looked as if he'd dipped into his closet circa 1978. Perry's garb leaned more to Mexican bandito, a new look complemented by an authentic Fu Manchu moustache that gave the deadly serious, stone-faced axe-slinger a cool outlaw look and suggested that he meant business.
Opening with one of their greatest rockers from their 1972 debut album, "Mama Kin," Aerosmith got the party off to a rousing start. For all their highs and lows and forays into radio-ready ballads throughout their resurgence in the 1980s and '90s, this is a band that has never been afraid to blow the dust off buried treasures that reside in their lengthy catalog. But they're also quick to shift into more familiar territory to please more casual fans as witnessed by their immediate foray into "Love In An Elevator," one of their many late-career smash singles.
Cleverly patching together a setlist repping all eras of a somewhat checkered past is no easy task. There's something for everyone during an Aerosmith concert. Whether you came to hear the radio hits ("Livin' On The Edge," "Rag Doll") or more obscure cuts ("Movin' Out," "Walkin' the Dog"), Aerosmith is adept at mixing up their many eras and phases and the tunes associated with them, and Tyler, Perry and company were able to pull this off seamlessly with one glaring omission: ballads were kept at bay for this particular outing, and the band instead relied more on powerhouse rockers. This was an evening of non-stop, unapologetic Aerosmith, and the crowd responded gleefully to the direction the band chose to take.
Stomping through their reading of Beatles' classic "Come Together" displayed the sheer nastiness the band, and especially guitarist Brad Whitford, can get down to. Tyler shimmied and swaggered across all the open space on stage while taunting and enticing the crowd to sing along. Drummer Joey Kramer's heavy pounding was fleshed out by the accompaniment of his son Jesse, who added extra percussion and congas. The sound inside the arena was magnificent (actually, one of the best-sounding shows I've ever attended at the Forum), which did nothing but bolster the band's sonic assault magnificently.
While some of the younger members in attendance may be familiar with Tyler solely due to his participation as a judge on TV reality/talent show American Idol, they no doubt got a taste of the charisma and magnetism that oozes from his aura. Onstage, Steven Tyler flings his scarves, ruffles his mane of now-graying hair, shakes his spandex-covered ass … and oh yeah, he still manages to screech out his blood-curdling hollers better than most other lead singers out there. "Last Child," a personal favorite, is the perfect vehicle to showcase Tyler's many talents. The funky vocal blues rants that eventually lead into screams and cat-calls show off his range and his unique phrasing. Personal opinions aside, even the staunchest Tyler detractor would have to own up to the fact that the man knows how to work a crowd, a room … hell, he's mastered an entire TV franchise.
The perfect foil for his antics, sidekick Joe Perry is as essential a piece of the 'Smith puzzle as Tyler is. Besides injecting every number with his razor-sharp guitar work, Perry truly shone when he took center-stage for vocal duties on "Combination," a nugget from 1976's Rocks (which most diehard fans consider to be THE quintessential album from the Aerosmith catalog). A charismatic frontman in his own right, Perry could have easily taken lead vocals on several more numbers and the crowd would have been happy.
A fun, energetic nearly two-hour set that found Tyler taking occasional breaks side-stage or splayed atop massive cooling fans scattered across the stage came to a triumphant end in the form of massive encores. Closing the initial set with their gritty, ballsy rocker "Walk This Way" (prefaced by a wickedly cool James Brown-like wordy intro courtesy of Mr. Tyler) brought the already energized crowd to new heights. And in continuing to save their best-known material for the end of the show, to start their encore, Tyler appeared seated at a massive white baby grand piano at the tip of the catwalk to belt out "Dream On," the band's earliest and most enduring anthem. As Perry slinked down the length of the runway that divided the floor area in half, he utilized the handy stairs that were built into the piano to perch himself atop the instrument and wail on his guitar in a show of truly dramatic arena-rock majesty as clouds of dry ice billowed from beneath the piano bench.
Bassist Tom Hamilton's all too familiar booming basslines introduced the chugging funk of "Sweet Emotion," another monster in the Aerosmith book of classic rock staples. For all the dozens of times you've heard this one, it still manages to take on an air of freshness and rock power whenever performed live and sleazily. And more smoke billowed, this time pouring from Perry's massive amps in a display of arena-rock gimmick that, again, worked like a charm. These guys have been at it for a while and it shows. Experts in the craft of rocking a packed house, it's an understatement to say that age, time and fame have been very kind to Aerosmith.
And while we're there, let's add Cheap Trick to that elite list of rock stalwarts who've maintained their dignity and continue to forge ahead. If you're going to get the favorite sons of Rockford, Ill. to warm up a crowd for you, there's always the hint of the chance you'll allow them to blow you away. Another band who has more than crafted their schtick and has mastered the art of serious rockin' is Cheap Trick. From the date that their debut album hit record store shelves in 1977, the band has lived almost non-stop on the road. One of the hardest working groups in rock history, Cheap Trick still always deliver one of the most solid and entertaining sets on stage. Getting the still-arriving crowd in the mood, the band delivered a non-stop, hour-long set that was chock full of familiar tunes and the occasional curve ball. Like Aerosmith, Cheap Trick is as comfortable straddling between well-known anthems ("Dream Police," "I Want You to Want Me") as they are when unleashing tremendous rarities ("Ballad of TV Violence," "Big Eyes"), and they do both with equal amounts of vitality and guts.
A fantastic double-bill to say the least. These two bands have defined the rock n' roll landscape for decades and have headlined thousands of venues in every corner of the globe since the 1970's. And, in true testimony to what they're each capable of and continue to accomplish, Tuesday night's performance showed that they still have plenty of life left in them and plenty more stages to conquer.
Aerosmith set list:
Love in an Elevator
Livin' on the Edge
Walkin' the Dog
What It Takes
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
Walk This Way
Train Kept A-Rollin'
Cheap Trick set list:
On Top of the World
Need Your Love
Ballad of TV Violence
I Know What I Want
That 70s Song
Sick Man of Europe
Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End
I Want You to Want Me