I first saw Aerosmith in 1979, headlining a Giants Stadium show with Ted Nugent, Journey (before they sucked), and Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush. A group of eight of us (all old friends) went together, mostly to see Ted—he was our musical God at the time—and he blew everyone else out of the water. Some of my buddies wanted to leave there and then, but I insisted we stay. After all, we did pay to see Aerosmith. There was argument, but I had driven and the one with the car keys always wins.
I still haven’t lived that one down. The words for their set that night included “brutal”, “terrible”, “awful”, and just plain “suck.” Basically, the bandmembers were in the midst of their drug frenzy and really didn’t give a rat’s ass (in the cellar or otherwise) about how they looked (or sounded) on stage. Disappointed, and feeling weirdly violated, I vowed never to see them again.
I kept that promise, even as the band cleaned up and started to make decent music again. Tours in 1999, 2000, and 2001 passed without my attendance, though I heard nothing but good things. Finally, in 2002, I broke down and took a chance on the band’s tour with Kid Rock and Run-DMC. Professional, tight, and under control, Aerosmith ROCKED!
I have since seen the band on the last four consecutive tours and each time have taken someone as reluctant as those first friends in 1979. The year following my breakthrough it was my best friend of 35 years, who went to see the opening act, KISS. Like that first time, I persuaded him and his wife to stay for Aerosmith. Last year, it was my lovely wife Denise, who had never seen a “real” rock concert (Don Henley doesn’t count). I had to promise to attend a Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire tour just to get her to watch Aerosmith do their thing with Cheap Trick. She marveled at Steven Tyler’s stamina and Joe Perry’s playing.
This year my company was a friend who hates the whole concert atmosphere but reluctantly came along because her husband (my original mate) had a family emergency to attend to. The only reason she came was because she happened to not hate Aerosmith and kinda liked some of Lenny Kravitz’s stuff.
Each year, I’ve enjoyed Aerosmith’s set and even though none of my guests may see them again, they’ve all left with a few decent impressions—hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Opening the evening, Lenny Kravitz made a fine showing. His 75-minute set featured a dozen songs, tight, solid musicianship, and a semi-subdued Kravitz. Normally bouncy and burning off energy, Kravitz was somewhat limited movement wise, thanks to a cast on his left leg (he had sprained his ankle a few days prior). The dude who preaches “Let Love Rule” had no love for the extra appendage on his foot. That didn’t stop him from doling out his hits, though, plus a few solid album cuts. Standouts included the opener, “Where Are We Runnin’?”, “Mr. Cab Driver”, “Can’t Get You Off My Mind”, “American Woman”, and “Fly Away”. His only misstep (no pun intended) was allowing the aforementioned “Let Love Rule” to turn into an overbearing, preachy sermon.
The stage had extensions on the sides, and a square U-shaped runway that extended across 75% of the length of the Nassau Coliseum floor. Kravitz only used the stage and the wings, so you knew that members of Aerosmith were the looking to take a few strolls into the crowd.
Movable video screens sat atop the lighting rig, and when the lights dimmed, a five-minute film appeared of the band playing in various stages of their career, with mash-ups of their hits as musical accompaniment. At the end of the film, the band stood on stage, poised and ready, and Joey Kramer pounded the all-too-familiar rhythm that opens “Walk This Way”.
For the better part of two hours, the sold-out crowd was led down the pathway of Aerosmith’s career, stopping at some major hits (“Jaded”, “Sweet Emotion”, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, “Dream On”, “Janie’s Got a Gun”), some popular album cuts (“Same Old Song and Dance”, “The Other Side”, “Rag Doll”, the entire version of “The Train Kept a Rollin’”, “Back in the Saddle”), and a few songs for diehards as well (“Seasons of Wither”, “Lord of the Thighs”, “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “Draw the Line”).
Each song was performed to the max. Tyler’s vocals and screams are still powerful and raw (how does one preserve a 57-year old voice like that, anyway?). Perry is still one of the best guitarists in rock (though his one lead vocal, “Shakin’ My Cage”, from his most recent solo album, is still pretty bad). Foil Brad Whitford is still one of the most underrated guitarists in rock (he does a few leads here and there—it’s not all Perry, all the time), Tom Hamilton still does the heavy end well on bass, and Kramer’s drumming still ROCKS. Perry and Tyler used the runways, giving fans in the back a chance to get a better view.
Aerosmith can pretty much write its own ticket. 2004’s Honkin’ on Bobo may not have been a smashing success, but it allowed the band to forego the balladry that has followed them for years and rock out. Live, even the few ballads they did had an edge to them, pleasing the ballad lovers and rockers alike. (Admittedly, “Jaded” found me in a full men’s room.)
If Aerosmith can keep up this much energy, they’ll manage an honest rock-and-roll live show for at least another six or eight years. Best to see them sooner than later, though—you never know how many reluctant people you’ll need to convince.