With the passage of time, even the truly monstrous becomes bearable, maybe even enjoyable in a perverse sort of way. On their first record in 1973 Aerosmith came on like a really dumb heavy-metal band with borrowed Led Zeppelin chops and a lead singer who aped every garage-band Mick Jagger move in the book. Now, six LPs later, they’re still a dumb heavy-metal band with the same Led Zep chops and the same lead singer doing the same Jagger moves. And they haven’t gotten any better at it. You have to admire that kind of tenacity.
What Aerosmith has gotten is a lot slicker — in the studio anyway. But on Live Bootleg, they’ve dropped all that secondhand veneer and gone way back to the rowdiest basics. (Maybe even further back than that.) The title isn’t just a conceit: this album sounds like it was recorded inside a shoe box, using two tin cans and a couple of yards of telephone wire. Charging through a legitimate set of greatest hits (from “Dream On” to “Walk This Way” to “Come Together”), Aerosmith mangles the tempo on every cut. Joey Kramer could be playing stone-breaks-scissors games behind the drums, while Joe Perry’s and Brad Whitford’s guitar lines thrash about with all the grace of a brontosaurus trying to get small animals off its back. Steven Tyler’s vocals, half-buried by the mix most of the time, emerge intermittently as hoarse, spasmodic shrieks. Everything’s a real mess. Nothing of any importance is lost, however.
I could go on about the group’s faults — that they don’t play heavy metal nearly as well as a half-dozen other bands I could name, and that even as cartoons, these guys are nowhere near as funny as Alice Cooper used to be — but it wouldn’t matter. One of the year’s better jokes was the debate about whether Aerosmith “sold out” by appearing in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, when, in fact, despite their prevalence for ersatz malevolence, they’re simply the other side of the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton coin: pablum for teeny-boppers. (Actually, they’re probably healthier for teenyboppers to listen to than Frampton is, because at least they act like they have fun once in a while.) It doesn’t really make any difference if Aerosmith’s music is any good or not. Who knows? If Steven Tyler’s cheeks could talk, would they say, “We suck,” or merely blow the fans a kiss?