Live Review: Aerosmith in Illinois

The New World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, Ill., August 30, 1997

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Aerosmith all but wrote the arena-rock concert manual: build an elaborate set, preferably one with a backdrop of giant red-eyed cobras; open with the new album's title track and save your smash hits for the finale and subsequent encores; make sure the lead singer wears garish shirts and tight pants; dance with the microphone stand and occasionally extend it into the audience to encourage people to sing along; tease the crowd with false song beginnings before performing your classics.

Follow these simple steps and you, too, can make thousands of fans raise their cigarette lighters in tribute. But you'll never rival the masters of the form: even after 27 years, Aerosmith can still breathe life into rock cliches that seem bland and silly in anyone else's hands. Singer Steven Tyler whirled around like a leering aerobics teacher, nailing the high notes in "Dream On" and gleefully destroying the subtleties of the euphemistic "Pink." Guitarist Joe Perry, master of the classic-rock riff, rarely poked his face out from under his frizzy haircut, soloing just enough in "Same Old Song and Dance" for the worshipful headbangers. Concentrating on pounding out loud, barreling grooves, the rhythm section of guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer let the spotlight stay on Tyler and Perry.

The two-hour show dragged only in the middle, when new songs like "Falling In Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" sounded like listless rewrites of older Aerosmith ballads. Otherwise, the band paced the set list perfectly, wedging the classic "Rag Doll" amid the new material. And nobody cared that they knew this movie's ending before it even began: "Sweet Emotion," "Dream On," "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," "Walk This Way" and "Cryin'" were all saved for the final 20 minutes.

Amid the spectacle, Tyler let fans know that, underneath the bright lights and big speaker cabinets, Aerosmith is basically just a blues band. In lieu of talking much to the audience, he sang snippets of "Fever" and other R&B standards between songs. And he and Perry drew out all the blues angles from "Big Ten Inch Record," a dirty old Aerosmith novelty number that owes more to John Lee Hooker's "Crawling Kingsnake" than AC/DC's "Big Balls."