The first time I saw Aerosmith in concert was on July 23, 1978 at the Oakland Coliseum. They headlined a summer music festival known as Day on the Green, put on by legendary entertainment promoter Bill Graham. The other acts on the bill were, in descending order, Foreigner, Pat Travers, Van Halen, and AC/DC. That’s right: AC/DC opened the show. That’s because they were fairly unknown in the United States at that time. Don’t believe me? Here’s the poster.
I can still remember Angus Young running onto the stage in a bumble bee schoolboy uniform. As AC/DC rolled through their set the crowd had a collective, dawning realization that we were seeing something great for the first time. That set the stage for the next act, Van Halen. My best friend had just bought the first Van Halen album a few weeks before the concert, but most of the crowd was uninitiated. They came out and played Running With the Devil, then Eddie Van Halen launched into Eruption. It was like a nuclear bomb went off.
I mention this because Aerosmith was a complete disappointment that day. During that period the band was deep into hard drugs and their performance really suffered from it. When juxtaposed against seeing AC/DC and Van Halen for the first time, it made Aerosmith seem like a washed up mess.
Despite that disappointing first experience, I saw Aerosmith seven or eight times over the years, with mixed results. So it was with a bit of skepticism that I decided to start the road trip with an Aerosmith concert at Harvey’s amphitheater on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, July 3, 2015. There was a completely forgettable opening act. No, seriously. I can’t even remember their name, and it’s not even worth looking up.
So the opening band sucked. The good news is that thirty-seven years after seeing Aerosmith for the first time, I finally saw the show of my dreams. It’s not unusual for a band to keep it’s form as the members age. The Eagles come to mind in that regard. This was something different. Aerosmith was better than ever. And not just a little bit better. They completely blew the doors off every other Aerosmith show I’d seen, in person or otherwise.
The first surprise came with the opening song, Let the Music Do the Talking. If someone had asked me to bet a million dollars that they wouldn’t play that song, much less open with it, I would have taken the bet. It’s from the Night in the Ruts album, released in 1979 when the band was at a low point. I remember reading an article at that time and the band’s singer, Steve Tyler, was quoted as saying that even if the album didn’t sell it would someday be considered a classic. You have to give him credit for sticking to his guns.
There were many highlights, but for me the best part was when they played Last Child, the second cut from the Rocks album. That song encapsulates everything I love about Aerosmith: the heavy blues funk, bordering on metal; the clever, southern-fried lyrics; Tyler’s soulful, high pitched vocals; the dual guitar attack of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford on the solo break; the thundering bass and percussion of Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer; all of it synthesized into a potent, intoxicating brew that makes you want to throw your fist in the air and bob your head.
Perhaps the most impressive thing, overall, was that Steven Tyler hit every single note, not just with clarity and assurance, but with a playful, over-the-top expressiveness that you only get from the truly great vocalists. And not just on Last Child, but on every number, especially the explosive segue out of the rhythm breakdown on Draw the Line. At the end of the show, Tyler did a victory lap around the stage, then looked out at the audience and said, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” The man wasn’t lying.
So maybe you’re like me and are skeptical of seeing this band live, thinking that maybe their best days are behind them. I can tell you that the opposite may be true. If the show I saw is any indication, this is the best they’ve ever been and may ever get. See them if you have the chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Let the Music Do the Talking
Love in an Elevator
Livin’ on the Edge
Toys in the Attic
Stop Messin’ Around
(Fleetwood Mac cover)
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing
Draw the Line
No More No More
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
Walk This Way
(snippet of “Home Tonight” as intro)