To say I was looking forward to this show would be an understatement. I wasn’t certain what to expect – Steven Tyler’s recent foray into the rather-safe pop-country pool has been met with some sideways glances from Aerosmith fans to be sure, no matter how alive and well the country/folksy roots are in parts of the 60s and 70s rock scene from which and into Aerosmith was born – but to see this iconic singer perform in a relatively small theatre venue instead of the massive stadiums one would usually find him in was going to be fun no matter what. So, I went in with fairly low expectations of the show overall, but damn it, I had a blast. The show was described as being ‘directed,’ which makes one think it might be kind of wooden and overly choreographed, and was further advertised as being really intimate and storytelling, as if we were going to be privy to some dirt-worthy insights to Aerosmith’s and Tyler’s own personal past. Neither of these things turned out to be true.
With no opener, the show began early, with an extended intro that seemed to point to a forthcoming storyteller-type evening, including video of a young Steven Tyler flashing on a large screen behind a sort of contrived country-junkyard stage set-up while soundbytes from his early career played. The diverse crowd was on its feet immediately, where it would stay for the rest of the set (aside from a noticeable handful of people who sat down during his new country numbers… some form of protest, perhaps?). Tyler came out along with his Nashville-based backing band, Loving Mary, to greet the audience and introduce the show. The whole look was of a bohemian commune, with lots of band members outfitted in vests, knee boots, fringe, headbands and feathers, with further messy arrangements of feathers, beads and fabric strips draped over drums, tambourines and other stage accessories. Tyler himself has abandoned his trademark clingy tights and floor-length tattered coats for a sensible red button-down under a white vest and still-clingy jeans decorated with painted white vines and red flowers. His wrists, fingers and neck were decorated with a collection of shiny baubles, and his long hair (which I will admit I’m pretty jealous of) was streaked with silver (nearly the only thing about him hinting towards his 68 years… hard to believe! Even he referred to himself as a 15 year old in a 68 year old’s body, and if I had half his energy now it would be a miracle), bits of blue, and woven-in feathers, and was usually blowing around his head from some fans at the stagefront pointed up at him. He is in it to win it. By way of an intro, his main question was whether the room wanted rock n roll or country tonight? I think we probably know the answer, but he carried on, describing about the blurry lines between the two genres. Indeed, Aerosmith has brought in the odd country element, particularly to its balladry, over the years, but I think this room wanted to rock fairly whole-heartedly.
They did not have to wait long, with a quick one-two punch of “Sweet Emotion” and “Cryin'” to begin the night’s music. While the massive aerobics-routine-style kicks (one of the kicks I did see him do, I think he might have flung off a shoe that disappeared behind the band as he turned around laughing) and endless tearing around the stage are no longer in Tyler’s stage antics, he still has that characteristic cheeky spark that makes him such a wonderful and engaging frontman. He strode around the stage on his long legs, wielding his iconic stage prop – his rather-bejeweled mic stand (a glimpse of the underside revealed a kids-drawing-styled nod to the Aerosmith wings logo, with “LICK ME” scrawled around it), draped of course with his trademark flowing black, yellow and rose coloured scarves, and brought in a few moments of his easy-going gallop and wide-legged stage drops, leaping onto risers, twirling, and holding the mic stand perfectly counter-balanced over the heads of the audiences or up to the balcony. He knows how to butter up his crowd too, slipping his hand into and over those that reached out for him from the front few rows, pitching some of his bracelets out to some fans, handing a harmonica to someone, even grabbing someone’s phone who was recording him and spinning around with it a few times while singing. He grabbed his butt, shook his butt, referred to his drummer Sarah Tomek talking about how good his butt looked in his tight jeans, and thrust his crotch for emphasis, all the while flashing his planet-sized grin. He cavorted with his band and crew, which included a photographer and videographer who stayed mostly incognito, but did appear on stage from time to time, tickling them on the chin as he stared close in to their lenses, or plopping a flower that had been tossed stageward onto their ears. It only took a few minutes for a red bra to be pitched at the stage (see photos!), and for Tyler to bend and pick it up from the floor where it had landed by his feet without breaking stride in his singing. He looped the strap of the bra over one finger and inspected it closely as he rose back up, then twirled it exaggeratedly on that finger before sending it around the stage where it lived on a variety of surfaces (powerhouse singer Suzie McNeil’s tambourine, the videographer’s camera…) before disappearing. That videographer’s handiwork would be piped up to the screen behind the band from time to time. Then there was the time the stage tech came out to deliver a ukulele to Tyler dressed in a coconut bra and grass skirt, sending Tyler into a spate of chuckles before talking about how his aunt had given him a ukulele when he was 7 and taught him a ditty, which he then played ahead of the rather sweet uke-laden “Make My Own Sunshine.” This was the first appearance of a song off his forthcoming (July 15) album titled We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. An adorable song, and if played by any newer Lumineers-generation folksy band, would be an insta-hit, but sung by Steven Tyler and juxtaposed alongside something like “Sweet Emotion”, I am starting to wonder what planet I’m on.
While Tyler relayed a few more tidbits about his influences, meeting Joe Perry (side note: I found out right when I got home about Perry’s on-stage collapse playing with Hollywood Vampires in Coney Island not too much earlier than this show started here. Tyler did not address this, and if he was aware of it, he didn’t seem to be affected by it – I am assuming he didn’t know prior to hitting the stage), and the peaks and valleys of Aerosmith’s career, it certainly wasn’t the intense tell-all the show had been pitched as. This is all right, as it turned the focus to the music. There was a healthy dose of ‘history of rock n roll’ covers, including songs by Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin (Joplin and Tyler are screechy-voiced kin to be sure) and The Beatles. After “Come Together,” Tyler noticed someone in the audience on a phone and spent a moment to admonish him. “Hey, turn off your phone! Unless you’re putting the party together tonight, get off your phone!” He then went into possibly the most questionable of these new country songs, “Red, White and You.” Even the title makes me a bit upset. In front of video of a waving American flag, he sang this shmaltzy pop-country song that will probably be an instant hit with country fans despite the Aerosmith fans wondering what the heck brought this all on. The other thing about the country tunes is that they aren’t giving Tyler’s incredible rock voice a workout. His vocal range and his wails are so impressive – hearing it live even more so – that it seems a shame to have that restrained under banjos and fiddles and lap steels and twang. Even many of the Aerosmith tunes tonight got a little bit of a country-kiss with additions of those instruments. Another new ballad “My Own Worst Enemy” has some shades of Aerosmith in the jingly guitar chorus but falls flat on the verse. During the ending of that song, he tore up to a riser to plop down at a grand piano and smash out the final refrains for the song. He stayed up there afterwards as people began to shout for Aerosmith classic “Dream On.” This did not go unnoticed by Tyler, who cocked his head to the crowd and asked, “What would you like? I think I am hearing things…” He egged this on for a moment, clearly enjoying the tease, before complying and indeed playing “Dream On.” Now the voice comes out to exercise again. That wail just floors me. His voice is as strong and spine-tingling as always. He ended the set with “Walk This Way.” Now we’re having fun!
The main set ended just an hour and fifteen minutes after it started, but the crowd barely even had time to start cheering before they were all back out on stage for a quick encore. They started this with a brooding, extra-dark sounding stripped down version of “Janie’s Got A Gun” that included visuals from the song’s video played behind the band, then moved into his new album’s title track “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” and ended with the Aerosmith classic cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” As the fans started to file out of the Orpheum after the lights came back up, the screen behind the stage displayed information on Janie’s Fund, Tyler’s organization to assist abused girls.
I can’t speak for anyone else in that room. I heard people on the way out talk about how the sound guys butchered the mix to drown out Tyler’s voice, and lots of people having an existential crisis over the country numbers, but personally, I had a heap of fun. Tyler is incredible to watch. The ease with which he interacts with his audience and band, his experience as a consummate performer, and that voice, coupled with a nice cross-section Aerosmith retrospective and performed in a small venue made for a brilliant experience. Loving Mary is a super talented, very capable bunch of folks who brought a new life to those songs and was well-suited to the country ones, and if people are expecting to join a show this tour expecting Aerosmith – well, it’s not Aerosmith. I’m not sure if it’s fair to make that comparison. The divide between styles is pretty huge, and I’m not certain there will be many crossover fans aside from completionists, but he will probably maintain his Aerosmith days fans as well as attract country fans to the fold. And whatever you have to say about it, Tyler is clearly in a really good place right now and enjoying soaking up every second he spends on stage. Go into it with an open mind and enjoy this version of Steven Tyler, and you’ll have a great time too. They make some pretty neat rock stars these days, but they sure don’t make rock stars like this anymore, so don’t miss your chance to see him up close.