You don't really need to be an Aerosmith fan to appreciate the band live.
This became clear at the band's concert at Gila River Arena Saturday night. As the band ripped through its playlist, it was hard not to notice that almost every song the boys from Boston played had received some radio play at one point. That's to be expected from a band with more than 40 years of history and a reputation for great rock ’n’ roll and colorful characters. If you had never listened to a single Aerosmith record in your entire life, you still would have recognized the majority of the songs from radio alone.
The band entered the stage shortly after 9 p.m., lead singer Steven Tyler strutting forward with an air of confidence befitting one of the best frontmen of all time. Decked out in skin-tight, shiny black-and-white patterned pants, a puffy red pirate shirt, white vest, and sparkling black cowboy hat, with multi-hued scarves draped around his neck, Tyler throughout the night used every inch of the stage, which extended forward into the general admission area as well as to each side of the arena. A giant video screen hung behind the band, and cameramen ran across the stage all throughout the night, at times ducking and dodging the band members and chatting with them to plan dramatic shots. The band ripped thought "Draw the Line" for its first song, after which Tyler unleashed a massive, classic rock ’n’ roll scream. It was a scream that said two things — Aerosmith would pump energy into the crowd the whole night, and Tyler's voice hasn't lost any of its edge throughout the years.
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The scream led into "Love in an Elevator," one of many hits the band would play. Musically, the band brought all five longterm members (in addition to Tyler: lead guitarist Joe Perry, drummer Joey Kramer, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, and bassist Tom Hamilton) and an unsung MVP, keyboard player Buck Johnson. The Glendale show was the first stop on the tour, and the band at times sounded like it hadn't quite shaken off all the rust of the touring downtime. But when you have a singer like Steven Tyler, it hardly matters. Add in the legendary guitar work of Joe Perry and the sharp musicianship of a band that's played together for four decades, and it's hard not to produce a great concert.
After "Love in an Elevator," they band went into another "Cryin'," another late-era Aerosmith hit, this one from the 1993 album Get a Grip, the band's best-selling album. Tyler showed off his harmonica skills on this song, and it was a great segue into "Living on the Edge," which followed. The song lasted more than six minutes, and Tyler sang the ending refrain "You Can't Help Yourself" while standing next to drummer Kramer.
"Remember the record we did with the two trucks fucking?" Tyler said after the song ended, referring to the cover of the band's platinum 1989 album, Pump. The band went into "Monkey On My Back" after that, with Tyler lifting up his shirt at the end of the catwalk, looking like a music video, with a fog machines and fans blowing his flowing long hair behind him. The band then played "Toys in the Attic" and then "Back in the Saddle." The band played "Rag Doll" next, with Perry busting out a pedal steel guitar for the solo.
The next song marked about the halfway point of the concert. Things shifted around a bit, as Perry took the lead vocals for a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Stop Messin' Around," a bluesy number that saw every member of the band take a solo, including Tyler, who again brought out his harmonica. Turns out, in addition to singing, he can play a mean blues harmonica, and his multitude of talents shined here.
"It's been way too long since we've played here," Perry told the audience.
"Mama Kin" followed, after which came "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," the band's only song to hit number one on the charts.
When New Times spoke to Perry earlier this month, he sounded a little annoyed when talking about the song.
"What I always hated, our biggest single ... was 'Dream On,'" Perry explained. "It was a ballad. Aerosmith is not a ballad band."
It should also be noted that Aerosmith didn't write "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," which appeared on the soundtrack for Armageddon — songwriter Diane Warren did. Perry's body language indicated that he only begrudgingly played the song live. During the rest of the show, Perry strutted the catwalk with his wireless guitar, playing solos next to Steven Tyler and all in all hamming it up to the audience. When it came time for "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," he stayed back next to drummer Kramer, basically the most low-key spot on the stage.
Perry came back to the front during the next song, "No More, No More." "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" followed, which saw Tyler humping one of the cameras. The song flowed seamlessly into "Walk This Way," after which the band left the stage.
The crew then wheeled a giant grand piano out onto the catwalk, pretty obviously setting up "Dream On." When Tyler came out and sat down at the piano, he started playing "Chopsticks" instead, even singing a somewhat cool vocal line over it. He then launched into "Dream On." At this point, the band had played for more than an hour, with Tyler's voice holding up impressively. How he would handle the famously high falsetto screams at the end of the song? Amazingly, he nailed it. The song was one of the night's best, and when bassist Tom Hamilton played the iconic notes of "Sweet Emotion" after the song ended, the crowd erupted. During one of the breaks in the middle of the song, Perry ripped through an otherwise unaccompanied guitar solo in front of his amp, which had been rigged with a smoke machine to look like it was on fire. The song ended, confetti exploded from the rafters, and afterwards Tyler introduced the band, and Perry introduced Tyler.
The arena was loud, the band looked great, and Tyler reinforced his reputation as one of rock ’n’ roll's best frontmen. Sure, some fans were probably disappointed that they didn't hear "Crazy" or "Janie's Got a Gun," but it didn't matter. It showed that the essence of rock ’n’ roll is ageless, and that even a relatively spectacle-free arena show can be entertaining as hell given the right talent.
Last Weekend: Aerosmith at Gila River Arena in Glendale
The Crowd: Tons of black t-shirts and grey hair, and a tattoo sleeves on people old enough to be considering AARP membership.
The Music: Steven Tyler's voice sounded great the whole night. Overall, though, this was not the sharpest performance I've seen at arena shows. Most notably, the band seemed to pull away from Kramer's drumming the whole night, causing some weird disconnects that distracted from the groove of the song.
The stage: The totality of U2's concert in May — incredible, well-rehearsed music, innovative lighting and set design — added up to be the most incredible live performance I've ever seen. This was about as polar opposite of a show as you could have gotten. Just a stage, a video screen, and minimal frills. When you have a singer like Steven Tyler, you don't need much window dressing.
Personal Bias: I never really dug into Aerosmith's discography growing up. They were far from a formative band for me; I feel like most everyone in the audience seemed to be enjoying the songs with a strong helping of nostalgia, as if Aerosmith was the soundtrack to their adolescence.
Random Notebook Dump: "Steven Tyler works because you get the feeling that there's no pretense to his act. There's nothing made up for the stage; you could conceive of Steven Tyler jumping on a table in a diner a la Vince Vaughn in Swingers and acting in the same exact manner on stage."
On Ego: Another thing Joe Perry and I talked about during our conversation a few weeks back was what artistically motivates him and others who have reached similar levels of success now that their career primes have passed.
"You gotta realize that most guys and girls that are in this business, we do it because we love it and we love to entertain the fans, but it’s an ego thing, too," Perry said. "We love to hear our singing back, and our guitar playing back, and the fact that the fans like it too, that’s a great thing. But it’s kind of a selfish thing. Nothing’s ever gonna stop me from wanting to record."
I was thinking about this quote as I watched Steven Tyler give a stunning performance on "Dream On." What motivates him? During the past six years, he and Joe Perry have had a somewhat contentious relationship, boiling down to the fact that Perry thought Tyler should have notified the band before agreeing to be a judge on American Idol. The band sought out a replacement lead singer for a time even, though if there's something I learned about Aerosmith Saturday night it's that Steven Tyler is absolutely irreplaceable. They reportedly offered the position to Lenny Kravitz, who wisely turned it down. As good as Kravitz is, he shrivels when compared to Steven Tyler.
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Being in a band requires spending a lot of time in the same room with your bandmates, and as a result, bands function as a sort of family unit, complete with squabbles, tension, and extremely rewarding moments of release. After 40 years, you become almost closer than family. One of my favorite moments came on a British talk show hosted by Jonathan Ross, where the two sat down on a couch and hashed out some of their differences in front of a studio audience.
"If there wasn't for the cracks, there would be no light for the sun to shine through," Tyler said of his relationship with the band. The fun stuff starts at 2:30. You can tell Perry isn't happy about Tyler's being on Idol, and Tyler is unapologetic. Tyler recently released a country music song and has plans to release a country music record. Perry specifically told New Times that if Tyler wasn't working on his country music album, there'd be a new Aerosmith album in the works. A cynical way to look at that would be to think that Tyler realized country music still sells albums and decided to cash in while he can, a shrewd business decision after a few years of observing the direction of pop music's commercial momentum on Idol. But maybe it's different. Maybe, as Perry says, it's ego. Maybe doing something completely new and out of left field is a way for a man who's achieved everything to keep himself grounded and challenged and growing as a creative person. Maybe it's a way to say, hey, I might be 67 years old, but I'm not set in my ways.