Despite Steven Tyler's own protestations that this is not a solo tour because he is performing with a fully integrated band called Loving Mary, it's hard not to see his whole career trajectory of the last few years — from signing on to judge American Idol to writing a tell-all best-selling biography to carving a niche out as a country artist — as anything but a fuck-you ass-shake to his bandmates in Aerosmith, the guys who gave him shit for falling off a stage seven years ago and never once visited him.
Sure they've reconciled since then, and made an album that came and went pretty quickly, considering how much time it took to come out. Those guys are his brothers-in-arms, blah blah blah blah blah. But like Mick Jagger's solo jaunt for She's the Boss and every tour Paul McCartney has mounted without a John, George, or Ringo, this "Out on a Limb" tour is about showing your bandmates what it would be like if you won every argument.
And although I was more thinking a solo Steven Tyler tour would just divide Aerosmith's audience in fifths the way the Joe Perry Project would, the mostly full Comerica Theatre seemed populated with people who loved the wit and wisdom of Steven Tyler almost as much as the man himself enjoys espousing it. And that attracted a smattering of not necessarily new fans, but the same fans who stopped listening to Aerosmith after Just Push Play. And maybe they're the section of rock fans that went over to country around that same time.
Look, it's no secret that classic rock suddenly became the bedrock of country music in the past two decades, and no rocker has actively pursued that rebranding more tenaciously than Tyler. And judging by the attention this audience paid to selections from the new album We're All Somebody from Somewhere in the set (a whopping six numbers), it seems to have worked. The crowd stood throughout, even got excited for the new numbers, although maybe they would've preferred "Angel" to "Only Heaven" judging by Tyler's response to the audience's response. "You sure about that?" he asked a couple of times after.
Not that they didn't hear Aerosmith songs. They got nine of those, even if two of them were Beatles and Fleetwood Mac covers. And while Tyler promised countrified versions of these, that mostly translated into hearing "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way" with an inaudible banjo.
"This isn't American fuckin' Idol," he announced for anyone expecting him to sit back and judge others for two hours.
While dutifully informing us that "Joe is doing well" (Perry experienced a heart attack onstage with the Hollywood Vampires last week), Tyler opened up with faithful versions of "Sweet Emotion" and "Crazy" that showed Tyler full of enough energy that when Aerosmith does the farewell tour next year, he won't be the one who looks like he needs to be replaced.
In fine voice throughout, Tyler does enough high-pitched shrieks at age 68 to make you wonder how he managed to not sound any worse for the wear and tear on his larynx, even pulling off a credible Janis Joplin impersonation on a "Mercedes Benz"/"Piece of My Heart" medley.
Tyler envisioned this tour as his version of the VH1 Storytellers show, where he could go into great detail about the inspiration behind every song. That really only happened for a few numbers, like "No Surprize," a song which he only sang a brief snatch of before going into "Rattlesnake Shake," and with "Jaded," the song he wrote with producer and current Loving Mary bandmate Martin Frederiksen. There we learn that Sony was ready to drop the band again if it didn't come up with some hits and that Tyler was crushed upon learning that the stuttering he did on the title was redolent of David Bowie's "Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes."
"But fuck it, we put it out anyway."
Of the new songs, "My Own Worst Enemy" and the power ballad "Only Heaven" could've easily slotted on any latter-day Aerosmith album. "I Make My Own Sunshine" ("It's a little different; it's a good thing," said Tyler after that one) and the new album's title track couldn't have. Same goes for the country career launch song "Love is Your Name."
Only "Red, White and You" sounds like the money-grab, by-the-numbers new country track. Yep, this song has the requisite girl-in-cutoff-jeans reference and "good ol' boys driving big machines." There's even a couple of blatant Tom Petty references that someone of Tyler's stature doesn't have to make to prove he's a rocker. Leave that to the Eric Churches of the world.
Tyler gamely included a Beatles medley of "I'm Down" going into the bridge and last verse of "Oh! Darling" and finally a complete "Come Together."
Inaudible banjos aside, Loving Mary proved a good Aerosmith cover band, including note-by-note reproductions of the guitar solos that Joe Perry reportedly didn't play on record.
Tyler benefited from having a band that included three female vocalist/instrumentalists, including Suzie McNeil, who did all the harp honking, leaving Tyler time to go to stage left and shout out requests to the sound guy to adjust the sound (maybe he wasn't hearing enough banjo either).
Tyler seemed a bit distracted throughout, at times starting to tell stories and then shifting gears. But he still gave it his all. His best interaction with the audience was reprimanding a guy for videotaping the show on his phone.
"You better not be posting this on YouTube," he warned, "or I'll kick your ass and fuck your girlfriend in front of you."
And after taking some liberties with "Janie's Got a Gun" that sounded more bluesy than country (and featured a two-minute raga vocal exercise by Tyler) and a more-country-than-Yardbirds-y "Train Kept a Rollin,'" Tyler left us with the parting words, "Remember the light at the end of the tunnel may be you."
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In Tyler's jumbled and always overstimulated mind, that was probably some serious life-altering advice.
Love is Your Name
I Make My Own Sunshine
Mercedes Benz /Piece of My Heart
I'm Down /Oh! Darling /Come Together
Red, White and You
My Own Worst Enemy
Walk this Way
Janie's Got a Gun
We're All Somebody from Somewhere
Train Kept A-Rollin'