I've seen my fair share of classic rockers this summer in my attempt to check a few biggies off my bucket list. And when you've been around for more than three decades, chances are you're going to have at least two or three monsters to unload at night's end to send the crowd home in bleary eyed bliss.
But I have to say that Aerosmith might have one of the best one-two punches in all of rock. I mean, how can you beat the shot-to-the-solar-plexus from "Dream On" into "Walk This Way"? Two of the most indelible riffs in rock played back-to-back is a slam dunk, no matter how you slice it.
If fans at the nearly sold-out Riverbend Amphitheater came looking for drama between singer Steven Tyler and longtime foil/sometime rival guitarist Joe Perry, there weren't going to get in on Thursday night (September 2). Nobody fell off the stage, nobody hip-checked anyone and there weren't any hasty departures to join reality singing competitions.
Rather, there were two hours of (mostly contemporary) hits, lots of shouting into microphones together, a dozen trips down a catwalk into the audience and more sequins and glittery get-ups than a Liberace tribute show. These guys are showmen, and they ran onto the stage ready to put one on, ripping through the classics "Eat the Rich" and "Train Kept A-Rollin'" on their way to their massive hit "Love in an Elevator," during which the four giant lighting rigs pumped up and down in time with the videos of writhing '80s video queens.
I have to take a moment out to talk about what the fellas were wearing. Perry looked like something out of a steampunk remake of Tom Petty's :You Got Lucky" video, with a silver lame buccaneer duster, skintight black velvety bellbottoms with giant studs near the ankle, electric blue jazz shoes and a guitar that looked like it was wrapped in leather and brass.
Then there was Tyler, the original rock and roll peacock. He had on bun-hugging zebra print pants, a sleeveless, almost sheer black T-shirt with a bedazzled image that matched the tattoo on his right bicep, glittery black tennis shoes and the kind of blinged out, jewel-dripping nail polish you rarely see on a man who gets Social Security checks.
But enough about their clothes; despite their recent squabbles, Aerosmith excel and pumping out the kind of ear candy hard rock hits that have kept them on the charts and in sheds for more than 30 years. "Livin' on the Edge" was packed with dirty, grungy riffs, "Last Child" was spiked with some sweet and greasy blues and "Rag Doll" had a grittier bite than the recorded version.
As if the indefatigable Tyler needed any more bling (even the bottom of his jewel-encrusted mic stand had some giant Swarovski crystals glued to it), he grabbed a black velvet top hat pimped out with a blue scarf and a towering bundle of feathers for his shuffle through "Pink," which features the almost too-perfect line "You can be my flamingo."
There was, of course, a mid-show drum solo, notable for Joey Kramer's abandonment of his sticks in favor of pounding the skins with his bare fists, as well as a solo spot for Perry, who used his time to prove that he's better than his projected "Guitar Hero" avatar. Perry also gave notice that he's still got some serious old-school chops by taking over the mic and burning through the Chicago blues vibe of the Fleetwood Mac cover "Stop Messin' Around." I felt like I was the only one in the place, though, nostalgically thinking about the horrible "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" movie starring the Bee Gees when the band ran through their snarling cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," which was featured in that forgettable film.
They brought it all back home with a jiving, gritty "Sweet Emotion," which built to a chaotic climax featuring Perry whamming on a Theremin and jonesing for more feedback before completely losing it at the end of "Draw the Line," when he took off his belt and whipped the strings on his Lucite guitar. He ended the show flat on his back and spent, carried off by roadies a la James Brown.
And then, the encore. No matter how many times you hear those first few notes of "Dream On," it still give shivers and even Perry seemed in a celebratory mood, lighting up a giant stogie as he scratched away at his leather and brass studded ax and the live wire Tyler strutted across the catwalk one more time as if the past 30 years had never happened.
The show was opened by the man who might just be the happiest dude in rock: Sammy Hagar. Fronting a loose, joyful trio, Hagar blasted through an hour of hits from his first band (Montrose), his parachute pants 1980s solo years and his Van Halen era that left a bigger grin on his face than the adoring crowd's.
Only occasionally strapping on a guitar between swigs of blue drinks cooked up by two mini-skirted beauties manning a full on-stage tiki bar, the Red Rocker bounced through feel good rockers from "I Can't Drive 55," "Top of the World," "There's Only One Way to Rock," "Best of Both Worlds," "Three Lock Box" and the VH classic "Finish What Ya Started."
If Tyler ends up on "American Idol," here's hoping it doesn't put an end to Aerosmith, because no matter who the band brought in to replace him, nobody — but nobody — can fill those sparkly Reeboks.