On the first night of the North American leg of their Cocked, Locked, Ready to Rock Tour, Aerosmith proved that all they have to do to keep their fans happy is do what they still do best — rock hard. The band hasn't released a studio album since 2004, or a disc of original material since 2001. Nevertheless, Oakland's 20,000-capacity Oracle Arena was nearly packed and fans were on their feet throughout a 20-song, two-hour set that spanned four decades of hits and beloved album tracks.
That the show happened at all was another testament to the band's good fortune. Early this year, Joe Perry confirmed that the band was about to audition replacements for Steven Tyler, who entered rehab to beat his painkiller addiction after a troubled road trip. The tour — with Tyler back on the mike — began in Europe and South and Central America as planned, but just last week, Perry was rear-ended while riding his motorcycle. "Contrary to rumors, I'm still alive," he quipped midway through the show. The guitarist explained that he flipped over his handlebars, and attributed his survival to a helmet before taking a rare vocal solo on Fleetwood Mac's early blues cut "Stop Messin' Around."
Aerosmith's tenacity was apparent from the set's very first song, as "Rats in the Cellar" kicked off the concert in fast and furious mode. Ever the embodiment of rock & roll ridiculousness, Tyler wore sparkling leopard-print pants, silver sneakers, an absurdly wide-brimmed fedora, a black T-shirt, and a gray vest, a gauzy black drape-y thing, the kind that only he and maybe Stevie Nicks would wear. All but drummer Joey Kramer initially wore sunglasses; guitarist Brad Whitford's never came off. Tyler and Perry took particular advantage of the lighted catwalk that extended several rows into the audience, although the latter at least once missed his cue to stand at the end of it to be blown by gusts of sudden smoke, and instead ambled willingly into the blast.
Yet Aerosmith's shamelessness remains an innate part of their charm. Tyler displayed his arsenal of lascivious poses, cocky struts, and emphatic hand gestures — often directly in the faces of nearby female fans. His vocal chops remain: He ended "Eat the Rich" in a torrent of enviable ear-piercing screams, then sputtered in a self-deprecating coughing attack. No once mocks Tyler like Tyler himself.
There were times when the instrumentation could've been tighter. Tom Hamilton began "Sweet Emotion" assertively with its familiar undulating bass line, but the rhythms soon lost their bite. Guitar blare often trumped funk precision, and Perry's obligatory catwalk movements may sometimes have compromised his musical connection to the other players. In the transition from stoned bad boys to dependable hitmakers, Aerosmith have lost some of their menace: The only dangerous moment in the show came when Tyler kneeled on a pillow, stretched across a monitor, and grinded his crotch within inches of hot lights. Yet sinister early tracks like "Lord of the Thighs" triumphed alongside pop anthems like "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" because both remain great songs, and because the band still tangibly enjoys playing them. When your showmanship remains as sharp as Aerosmith's, that's all that matters.
"Rats in the Cellar"
"Monkey on My Back"
"Love in an Elevator"
"Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)"
"Eat the Rich"
"Livin' on the Edge"
"What It Takes"
"Jane's Got a Gun"
"Lord of the Thighs"
"Stop Messin' Around"
"I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"
"Baby, Please Don't Go"
"Draw the Line"
"Walk This Way"
"Toys in the Attic"
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