"We're a strange band," admits Steven Tyler as Aerosmith approach the 45th anniversary of their first show, which took place in November 1970. "We're still the same members. No tapes, no synthesized drums onstage. I don't have six dancers with hot-ass booties and titties sticking out. We're true to our Aerosmith-ness."
The proof, Tyler says, is in Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014, a roughly 90-minute concert movie filmed last June at the Download Festival at Donington Park in Leicestershire, England. With the help of camera-loaded drones that flew around the band, the movie — which shows them plowing through "Walk This Way," "Love in an Elevator," "Dream On" and the rest of their standard repertoire — will be presented at 7 p.m. tonight in over 300 movie theaters across the country. (It's the first presentation in the new "Fathom Events Classic Music Series"; Rolling Stone has learned that the next event, scheduled for this Monday, March 30th, will be a night of all-Led Zeppelin concert footage, from London's Royal Albert Hall in 1970 up through their Knebworth Festival show in 1979.)
Tyler says part of the inspiration for making Rocks Donington was the time he's spent watching the high-def, all-music cable channel Palladia. "They show a lot of festivals, so whenever you turn it on you see the Stones or Tom Petty or Foo Fighters and they're fucking kicking ass," he says. "And you're watching it in your hotel room and you realize, 'That's a great format.'" Also, guitarist Joe Perry considers this show a highlight of last year's European tour. "We were really picking up speed," he says. "As you get near the end of a tour, the band gets better and the shows get better. The audience was on the money. The weather was decent. It felt like a special show." (The band opted not to release the film in sometimes-fashionable 3D, though: "I think I've watched one 3D movie since that trend started," he says. "Those funky glasses — it's fun for a Disney ride but not for movies or rock & roll.")
As seen in the movie, Perry is the first to admit that Aerosmith rarely deviates from the recorded versions of their hits. "People from 14 years old to their 60s come to the shows," he says. "They're looking forward to seeing 'Walk This Way' the way they know it. They're not there to see if we can revamp something they've gotten used to. There would be a lot of disappointed people if we played 'Dream On' reggae-style. I can't remember the last time we switched something around. That's the kind of band we are, and I don't see us changing anytime soon." Last-minute changes largely come down to wardrobe — like the South American headdress Tyler wore that night in Donington. "You know, it was backstage and I said 'Fuck it, I'm wearing it,'" Tyler recalls.
Even so, Tyler says the old songs can still tap into potent memories. "Every time we go onstage and play, we're reminded of exactly why we did it back then, through the songs," he says. "Like when we recorded 'Train Kept A-Rollin' and we were angry as fuck at radio stations who weren't playing Aerosmith. Every time you play that song now, you're still reminded of the anger. You kind of live it again."
When Aerosmith hit the road for a brief tour this summer — seven shows booked so far, starting June 27th — fans should expect to hear a somewhat revamped show. The hits will still be in the house, but Tyler and Perry say they're planning to jam in album tracks once part of their sets: Perry says he'd like to revive 1989's "Monkey on My Back," 1993's "Fever" and 2001's "Beyond Beautiful," and Tyler is considering "Sick as a Dog" from 1976's Rocks. "We've gotten too comfortable playing the same stuff," Perry admits. "I'm looking at the set list for some of the last couple tours and they're all the same songs just in different order. So we're going to put some time into rehearsal and change it up. Maybe we'll do a couple songs off the first and second records that we rarely play."
"We're gonna do deep," Tyler adds. "People want to hear 'Sweet Emotion,' 'Dream On' and 'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing' — all that over and over, and there are other songs of the cloth we were cut from. Being in a band for 40 years, what is the passion, the impetus? For me, it comes from rehearsing a few songs we used to play great and didn't give a shit if other people cared about them."
When fans will hear brand-new Aerosmith music is another matter. After parting ways with Sony after the release of 2012's mediocre-selling Music from Another Dimension!, the band has no label nor any plans to record. Perry, just off a book tour for his memoir, Rocks, released an indie Christmas EP late last year and has contributed to several tracks on an upcoming album by the Hollywood Vampires, the Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp project devoted to covers of songs by deceased artists. Tyler is in the early stages of planning a solo album and recently cut what he calls a "dark, smoky backroom rendition" of "Janie's Got a Gun" for a movie of the same name. (He's also sat in periodically with the Nashville band Loving Mary.)
"Aerosmith will probably do something again," Tyler says. "I don't know for sure. I just know what I'm doing now."