A spectacular lightning storm delayed the Aerosmith show by about 45 minutes, which likely explains why the quintet's tour kick off was somewhat shorter than it should have been. But did the wait kill the buzz of the crowd at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater? Hell no -- not even when most of the lawn left to take shelter in their cars and had to re-enter the venue, and not even when it continued to pour down rain and flash lightning on the crowd long after the concert began.
Aerosmith did its part and delivered a show underscoring what it does best: raunchy, bluesy rock & roll. The set list contained none of the schmaltzy ballads, none of the recent singles few people care about and almost no filler. Instead, this was a show for the die-hards and lifers, the fans who have stuck with the group through rehab, cancer, surgeries and other maladies and setbacks.
Two of the first three songs came from 1989's Pump - "Monkey on My Back" and the always crowd-pleasing "Love In an Elevator" - while song four was the prototypical Bic flicker, "Dream On." Then Aerosmith played its classic 1975 album, Toys in the Attic, straight through, which it's doing all tour. As might be expected from a band doing a run-through of an album, this portion of the night ebbed and flowed. The psych-blues tune "Uncle Salty" dragged a bit, but the pace quickly picked up with the glammy crunch "Adam's Apple" and classic strut "Walk This Way."
Even better was "Sweet Emotion," which played up the mystical psych-rock taffy-pulls of the studio version, and "No More No More," which was a no-frills bar-rocker. The only real buzzkill in the set was the Joe Perry-on-vocals cut "Combination" (from Rocks) and the '90s MTV staple "Living on the Edge," which sounded a bit rusty.
Steven Tyler's voice sounded strong and solid; he only dropped an octave a few times when he should have hit higher notes. As for stage presence, he acted just like, well, Steven Tyler. Wearing skin-tight silver pants, matching sneakers (!) and sunglasses, he pouted, preened and slithered around the two-tiered stage and a protruding catwalk. Always the focal point of the group, even small gestures - like during "Emotion," when he grabbed two huge maracas that looked like gourds and acted like a mysterious shaman - felt theatrical.
The rhythm section of drummer Joey Kramer and bassist Tom Hamilton isn't flashy or showy, just dependable and solid. But guitar demigod Joe Perry was the star of the show, for reasons both dubious and awesome:
1. Near the end of "Sweet Emotion," he conducted a prolonged theremin solo. Footage of this projected onto the huge video screens was accordingly all tripped out and fragmented.
2. "Living On the Edge" appeared to end. However, then he stepped out into the spotlight and proceeded to...duel with the Guitar Hero version of Joe Perry. Then a reprise of "Living on the Edge" began. The entire thing reminded me of the Wayne's World sketch with egregious product placement.
3. His guitar-senal included: a translucent lime-green one; a white one with a buxom blond lady painted on it; and of course, a bitching double-neck guitar. Either way, he ripped solos on many songs, including a great one on "No More No More" that...
4. ...involved him standing in front of a column of smoke/fire that from the audience looked like he was emerging from the pits of hell, guitars blazing, ready to rock.
What else can you say but that it was a solid rock show by Aerosmith? It's almost too easy to take the band for granted, seeing as it's survived so much and continues to release albums and tour, like clockwork. But the quintet is adept at getting back to its roots -- without pandering to or tarnishing its legacy. That's not an easy thing to do, but Aerosmith does it with a sly wink and a confident strut.
Critic's Notebook: Guitarist Brad Whitford isn't playing with the band for a few days. But taking his place is Lake St. Louis resident Bobby Schneck, who held his own on the night, and even delivered a few solos. Look! Here he is deep in concentration!
Warm fuzzies to the dad who brought his red-haired daughter up from Farmington for her first show. ("Second," she actually corrected him; first was TobyMac.) Coal and spitfire to the very, very pregnant lady we saw smoking a cigarette during 3 Doors Down.
Did you know: Nelly covered "Walk This Way" with Ja Rule and Sum 41 a few years ago. There's a video here, although I recommend viewing it at your own risk.
Personal Bias: I wish I had thought to wear my vintage 1993 Get a Grip T-shirt with the album cover on the front. Boy, was I a suburban renegade wearing a shirt featuring a cow with a pierced teat. The parents wouldn't let me get the Metallica shirt with the brown snake, so this was my consolation prize.
Random thought: Whatever happened to Eddie Furlong, the start of the "Living on the Edge" video, which was projected on the screen behind the band during the song?
Setlist: (courtesy of the Aero Force One Forums) Monkey On My Back Cryin' Love In An Elevator Dream On Combination Toys In The Attic Uncle Salty Adam's Apple Walk This Way Big Ten Inch Record Sweet Emotion No More No More Round And Round Livin' On The Edge Draw The Line Encore: Train Kept A Rollin'
More photos (entire set here)