Two thirds of the way through a varied and charmingly scraggly set spanning four decades of blues-informed rock and glam-saturated power pop, Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler uttered something a little dangerous. Well, dangerous for any band playing an 18,000-capacity venue like Ridgefield, Washington's Amphitheater Northwest.
"We're gonna play a song that we've never played on this tour, and we're gonna see who fucks it up first."
And with that, the band dusted off a boogied-up version of "One Way Street," a song that dates back to their 45-year-old self-titled debut. If there were any fuck-ups, they were minor (including a small hiccup with the teleprompter that led Tyler to holler, "Wrong lyrics!" at the techs working stageside), and they wouldn't have mattered anyway. Aerosmith were having far too much fun getting back to their roots as Boston's best bar band.
For two hours, that same mischievous and merry spirit held sway over Tyler and his four longtime bandmates, all of whom are comfortably in their sixties. Their joints are a little stiffer and their vocals a little thicker with age, but everything else about the show exuded youthful, rebellious and ribald rock & roll energy. Not for nothing did Tyler have the words "Lick Me" written on the base of his mic stand.
With Aerosmith back in their default mode of flamboyance and fun, the show became an experiment in trying to summarize their 45-year evolution in one cohesive, entertaining set. Tyler and Co. have been been mixing things up during this run of dates, swapping out one Seventies favorite for another (underrated gems like "Lord of the Thighs" and "Let the Music Do the Talking" have made appearances in previous dates), while still making sure to deliver the hits from their late Eighties–early Nineties renaissance. For Tuesday's show in Ridgefield, that meant tossing in a searing version of "Last Child" from 1976's Rocks between more-current hits "Jaded" and "Livin' on the Edge." It also meant trusting that their audience could handle an extended version of the early Fleetwood Mac cut "Stop Messin' Around" if they followed it up with their last Number One hit, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."
To Aerosmith's credit, they threw themselves completely into even that Diane Warren–penned power ballad, as well as catty cuts like "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)." But there's no denying that they pushed the gas pedal a little harder on the old-school jams that allowed guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford to show off their blues chops — the duo traded solos and cut through the extended coda of encore closer "Sweet Emotion" with a serrated edge. During last night's show, everything about that era of Aerosmith fit all five men as comfortably as Tyler's snug faux-snakeskin pants.
Another area of comfort for the lanky lead singer was his willingness to play to the cameras that followed his every onstage move. The performance was a reminder of what a natural Tyler is, and of the way he translated his ferocious charisma for both late-Eighties MTV and the millions tuning in to American Idol a few years back. Even though he was mainly communicating with the folks in the cheap seats, Tyler sang, mugged and spoke right into the lenses of the cameras as if he was being picked up in households all over America. (He saved the crotch grabs and finger-licking gestures for the folks much closer to the stage.)
As slightly discomforting as it was to watch a 67-year-old making such overtly sexed-up moves, the sight spoke to how Tyler and the band have been able to do what most arena-rock bands can't: connect with an array of ticket holders, ranging in Ridgefield from overheated senior citizens to a gaggle of excitable teens, while employing the bare minimum of bells and whistles. There were some silly touches at last night's show, like the fake overheated amp that Perry played into when soloing on "Sweet Emotion" and a big confetti blast to end the night. But beyond that, Aerosmith kept things simple and let their still-potent magnetism lead the charge. Impressively, that was more than enough.
"Train Kept A-Rollin'"
"Love in an Elevator"
"Livin' on the Edge"
"Toys in the Attic"
"Stop Messin' Around"
"I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"
"One Way Street"
"Dude (Looks Like a Lady)"
"Walk This Way"