Creating the set list for Aerosmith’s Deuces Are Wild Las Vegas residency each night is a difficult task. Not only does the band have 50 years of hits, fan favorites, deep cuts, and beloved covers to cram into a roughly 90-minute show, but all five original members are still in the group, and each has his own ideas about how exactly to pull it off. “There’s a lot of back and forth,” says guitarist Brad Whitford. “Sometimes it happens in 30 seconds and other times it’s 10 minutes of everyone saying, ‘Let’s do this … how about that?'”
The band does have the freedom to move songs around from show to show, meaning that certain tunes like “Movin’ Out” and “Draw the Line” have been tried out just a couple of times before being unceremoniously dropped, while classics like “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion” surface every single night without fail.
They took the show to casinos around the East Coast over the summer, but on September 21st they head back to the Park Theater at Park MGM in Las Vegas and they’ll stay camped out there, on and off, through June 2020.
“Train Kept A-Rollin'” (Tiny Bradshaw / Yardbirds cover, 1974)
Tyler: That it was one of the first songs we learned as a band, and we saw the audiences react in the way that we wanted them to. So to play it now, and see them react the same way they did back then, it’s euphoric recall. When I was in bands before Aerosmith, I always listened to the Yardbirds, so when we got together as a band, that was one of the first ones we played.
Hamilton: Joe [Perry], Steven, and I were teenagers way into the Yardbirds. Joe and I have played Yardbirds songs in every band we’ve been in since we were 14. This song was one we just grabbed onto, and we’ve been playing it virtually all along. It’s emblematic of us and what we like to do. When we come and start the set, we want something that’s a real barnburner that can really wake up the audience.
Whitford: There’s a lot of stories about this song. We’ve done it from almost day one, but it has gone through some changes over the years since we recorded it for Get Your Wings. We’ve added bits and pieces to it and changed it up a little bit and ended up with a slow version of it that was on the record. Then there is a faster version that was supposed to be live, but it wasn’t really live. [Our producer] Jack Douglas recreated that in the studio and we made it sound like it was in some big arena. We stole the crowd noise, I think, from the Concert for Bangladesh concert. We made that all up. Everyone thinks its live. It’s not.
“Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” (1987)
Hamilton: We hadn’t played this song in a long time until these shows. I think Steven had some second thoughts about the lyrics. He thought they were just a little too silly, but I never felt that way myself. The song itself, the melody and the beat and the guitar parts are so good that the actual lyrics kind of fade in my mind. But when I think where rock music was at when that song came out, that song made a totally legitimate observation about of a lot of the bands from California that were out at the time, bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison. They dressed up like women, almost. To do a song that’s an observation of that phenomenon, I think that is really legitimate. The song is a tough one to play, but it really gets an audience in tune. It’s irresistible.
Whitford: I remember Steven was hanging out with this guy from Mötley Crüe [Vince Neil] and he was really struck by his use of the word “dude.” In its day, everything was “dude.” At the same time, Joe was coming up with this musical idea and the two ideas got married, at least after [producer] Bruce Fairbairn did his magic to it. It’s a crowd favorite. What helped a lot is that it was in Mrs. Doubtfire. When you get a song in a major motion picture, a lot of people know it. But sometimes people hear those songs and they don’t know who is doing it in the context of the movie.
“The Other Side” (1989)
Hamilton: This was a big hit. We tried putting it into the set many times, but for some reason it just didn’t work. It wasn’t fun to play. It didn’t have the right feel. We were having a lot of trouble making it work, but now we have people playing with us that are sensational. We have percussionists and this keyboardist-singer named Buck Johnson who is an unbelievable singer and musician. And we have Suzie [McNeil], our backup singer. We decided to try it again now that we can recreate the harmonies. We also adjusted the key and played it a few times and it’s been sounding great.
Whitford: I don’t know how much the crowd knows this song. The last time we did it, I felt like a lot of people had not heard it before. Sometimes that is the case with some of the songs we’ll play, especially with this show. A Vegas audience is not a real Aerosmith audience. They don’t have a lot of Aerosmith-educated fans and so they are like, “I don’t know that song.” It’s a bit of a deeper cut. But it was something that most of the band wanted to do, so we did it. I don’t know if it’s going to stay in the set or not.
“Rag Doll” (1987)
Hamilton: This just a really simple, straightforward rocker that also happens to be a favorite of people that didn’t get into the band until the later years. We have the fans that are familiar with what we’ve been doing going back to the first album and a lot of people that got into the band in the 1980s. We’re always trying to balance the two. “Rag Doll” is one that both groups really get off on.
Whitford: When you get these songs that were big MTV videos, you are almost guaranteed that almost everyone knows it. It’s a good song and a fun one to play. I remember making that video in New Orleans. We shot some in Tennessee and the rest down in New Orleans. It was fun hanging out on Bourbon Street and all that stuff.
“Last Child” (1976)
Hamilton: “Last Child” is a song based on a riff that I came up with. Sometimes my feelings about songs are influenced about what it was like to record them or what was going on in the band in rehearsals when we came up with this stuff. That happens to come from a period when we were really having a blast — the Rocks album was our peak as far as our 1970s period. It’s fun to play it and see what Brad can do with it when he steps out as a lead guitar player. It was a period where every album was better than the last.
Whitford: I remember when that album came out and we were on the road in London. The big music rag at the time in London was Melody Maker. I’m looking through it and there was a review of the album. They were writing some nice things about “Last Child” and then they were complimenting the guitar work on the song and comparing it to Jeff Beck, but the problem was they credited all the guitar work to Joe and it was all my playing! I got really mad like, “Damn it! That’s not fair!”
“Sweet Emotion” (1975)
Hamilton: Joe came up with the idea of playing this early in the set. I felt that song should be at the end in the honor position, but he talked me into trying it out and it’s been working out very well. It’s relatively early in the set. It still has that effect and that impact. I came up with the basic parts, obviously the bass part, and the basic guitar parts. Then, of course, Steven wrote the lyrics and the vocal.
Whitford: I don’t know why we’re doing it so early. It’s sort of a radical twist. We’ll see how long it lasts there. It’s such a huge song and such a unique song. It is Tom Hamilton at his finest. You’re going to hear it on classic-rock radio forever and ever.
Tyler: In Vegas, we can only can only play for an hour and a half, so we have to make sure we fit in all our hits, and some of them have moved toward the beginning of the set. Any time you play it, the crowd loves it.
“Hangman Jury” (1987)
Whitford: That’s another song that some people might not make a connection [with], but that’s the first point in the set where we slow things down. Steven and Joe sit at the lip of the stage in chairs and kind of bring a little front-porch jamming to the show. It’s another unique song and just a great approach that Steven came up with.
Hamilton: It’s a blues song, but it has a very lush, rich feel. It’s also full of hooks. For years, it was really hard to get the band into playing that song, nevermind playing it every night, so I’m happy that it’s in the set. Hopefully everybody will be up for keeping it in there. At some point we’ll probably have to give it a rest, but we have a lot of amazing things that happen with the lighting when it comes to that song.
“Seasons of Wither” (1974)
Hamilton: That’s another song that has a lonely, but powerful atmosphere to it. The dynamics go from very quiet and dark, but it opens up into a powerful chorus section. I love that song. Most Aerosmith fans that are into our Seventies stuff really like that one.
Whitford: It’s another song that Seven wrote most of, not all of, and is special for him. We usually get a lot of requests for that. If we’re not doing it, people are usually asking for it. We’re doing it every show in Vegas. It’s just a popular song. The feel of it, and the feeling you get from it, is kind of unique.
“Stop Messin’ Around” (Fleetwood Mac cover, 2004)
Tyler: Not only does Joe sing his ass off on that song, but it’s a tip of hat to the band that made me want to join Aerosmith: Fleetwood Mac.
Whitford: I’m not even sure how long we’ve been doing this one, but it’s quite a while. It’s a chance for Joe to sing a little bit and a chance for Steven to take a little breather while we jam through this blues thing. We’ve been playing it for so long that we’ve got a real handle on playing that shuffle. It’s a lot of fun. Our musical director in Las Vegas gets a chance to play his saxophone and it’s a big jam. There’s a lot of solos. Joe and I both play. Steven plays harmonica. Our keyboard player Buck gets a solo. It’s a real fun one.
Hamilton: I’m kind of neutral on that one. It’s not one of my favorites and I wouldn’t mind giving it a rest some day soon, but I don’t mind playing it. What happened was that radio played us constantly for years. Then all of a sudden new bands were coming out like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana and they said, “We don’t play Rush and Aerosmith and Pink Floyd anymore.” So we wanted to get the word out that we had new music out, so we decided to actually try and see if we could get on the Top 40 charts. That song was an example. To me, it’s not a real rocker, though I think to a lot of people it is. I mean, it’s a brilliant, high-quality song as far as writing, the lyrics and all that. I’m glad we have that one in and some of the others that became hits. Without them, we might not have ever gotten on the radio.
Whitford: This one was huge. The video just shows you the power of television. It’s so, so powerful. MTV was initially something we didn’t know we’d be a part of. It was a bit strange to us. But [A&R man] John Kalodner hooked us up with [director] Marty Callner and he was the secret sauce behind those videos. But I would agree with Tom [about keeping it in the set]. I’m always pushing to go deeper in the catalog and I don’t always get what I want. There’s a lot of songs that we don’t bring to the concert stage that I’m trying to get the band to do and have been for years. I have a bunch of other songs that I feel need to come out of the closet, like “Lick and a Promise,” “Sick as a Dog,” “Get the Lead Out,” “No More No More,” and “No Surprize.” If we can get any one of those in, I’d be very happy.
“Livin’ on the Edge” (1993)
Hamilton: I’m a huge fan of that one. I like that one for the same reason I like “Seasons of Wither.” You’ve got the dark parts that smolder and it gets really big and rocks out. There’s so much drama or potential for drama in that song that I just can’t get sick of it. Those lyrics will be appropriate for any age from now until the end of eternity. There’s always going to be some asshole somewhere fucking over an entire country of people and that song will be on people’s minds.
Whitford: That was the song that came to us from Mark Hudson. We did a lot of work with him. I remember him sending that song out and he just nailed it. He made a demo of it and he even imitated Steven’s voice. The first time we heard it we were like, “Wow, this is very cool.” Then we recorded it. It’s a very unique song. I really like that one.
“Lord of the Thighs” (1974)
Hamilton: I think it’s so funny that Steven came up with that lyric “Lord of the Thighs.” The band loves playing that one. It’s a very challenging song for bass. It involves a lot of endurance issues and it’s a point of pride for me to be able to play it well even though it’s a very simple rocker from our second album.
Whitford: That’s another one going back. Some of these songs like this one and a couple of others will come and go. They get played once or twice and we get a little bored of them and we’ll probably move on to something else.
“What It Takes” (1989)
Hamilton: “What it Takes,” I think, is awesome. It’s a ballad, but it’s not a schmaltzy ballad. The emotion in it is very real and it has a beautiful set of chord changes. No matter how many times you play it, you can either do it right and it takes a lot of concentration, or you can just just get out there and play and not do it well. I like to play that song to the best of my abilities. It’s a bit of a test, though.
Whitford: That’s another great song and a great showcase for Steven and his vocal range. It’s a tougher one for him to sing these days because he’s starting to lose a little bit of that range. It’s one of my favorites, though.
“Love in an Elevator” (1989)
Hamilton: This is a really funny song and another song where I think back to when we were recording it and how much fun we had recording it. The video which was absolute torture, but it turned out really great. And it’s funny now to hear Steven sing [different] lyrics that pop into his head that usually are pretty dirty. He’ll sing these things and I’ll laugh my ass off, but the audience doesn’t seem to notice.
Whitford: Another big video and song. Joe just comes up with these monster licks and this was one of them.
“Toys in the Attic” (1975)
Hamilton: This is another one that every night I wonder if I can pull it off since it is so fast. To be be able to play those lines that fast is a point of pride. It’s one of those songs we were most excited about when we made the Toys in the Attic album. We came up with a song that fast that was a real barn burner of a rocker, but also had a lot of music in it. We end the set with it because it’s a very climatic song. It’s really fast and it’s a chance for the band to really end the main part of the set with a lot of energy and get the audience excited for what’s going to happen next.
Whitford: I don’t think we play it as fast as it was on the album, but it’s fast. It gets all pumped up and it’s a good one to get the crowd up on their feet before we walk away. You put a towel on your head and then go out and do an encore.
“Dream On” (1973)
Hamilton: When we come up for the encore, we have a chance to take it down to a sort of very flat, moody feeling and then go up from there. Obviously “Dream On” is a song we’re going to play every night. Like “Livin’ on the Edge,” it has so much drama in it and a lot of dynamics where you have quiet parts and real big parts. When Steven was writing it, we were all living in an apartment together and he had his family piano. My room was the only room big enough for it to fit [in]. There were mornings where I would wake up to him playing that song before he had the lyrics or anything. He would say, “Tom, I’m telling you, this is going to be the biggest song some day. This is going to be huge.” I had no reason to doubt it.
Tyler: I wrote the music on an Estey pump organ that was right outside the studio my father would give recitals in every Sunday night at Trow-Rico [resort] in Sunapee, New Hampshire. The psychoacoustics that were coming out of the organ with the stops I had pulled were enchanting … it damn near wrote itself. Then we were in Boston, staying at an old motel near the airport. We were about to head into the studio to do an album and I had no lyrics to the music. I sat outside on the balcony and wrote the lyrics. I think the song has lasted as long as it has because the message is one that stands the test of time. Oh, and because of that scream …
Hamilton: When we finally did get a record contract and it was time to record it, we were all in a room barely big enough for all five of us to fit in. We spent the greater part of five or six hours in there coming up with all those ways of fleshing it out, especially with Steven doing his stuff, his thought process, and following that along until it was right. It was a moment that is vivid whenever I think about it. It’s one of the three songs that we’re the most known for.
Whitford: Steven goes out for the encore now and we put the piano on the end of the stage and he goes out there and every night we aren’t quite sure what he’s going to do. Lately he’s been doing bits of some Beatles stuff or starts digging into our library, songs we don’t do, and then finally he just sings “Dream On.” It’s one of those songs that’s going to be played on classic-rock radio as long as that exists. It’s really stood the test of time.
“Chip Away the Stone” (1978)
Hamilton: That’s a song written by a guy named Richie Supa, who was a good friend of the band. It’s kind of a “Brown Sugar” kind of song. A lot of people in the audience don’t know it. I don’t think it’s ever been on a regular Aerosmith album. “Come Together” is another song that goes really well in that spot, but in the last few shows we started doing “Chip Away.” We’ll do that for a while and then we’ll probably go back to “Come Together.”
Whitford: We’ve done that a few times. The people that know it love it and I think there’s a fair amount of people, especially in Vegas, that don’t know it. But it’s got a good tempo and it’s the kind of thing that people stay on their feet for. We just like playing it. It’s a cool rock riff.
Tyler: It got a lot of airplay back in the day, during the days of AOR (Album Oriented Rock) … and it’s got a great chorus!
“Walk This Way” (1975)
Hamilton: There’s such a story behind that song. The first being that we couldn’t come up with a name of the song. We were rehearsing those parts and putting the arrangement together, but Steven hadn’t written any vocals yet. A bunch of us went to the movies that night and saw Young Frankenstein. There’s that part where Marty Feldman picks up Gene Wilder at the train station and says, “walk this way,” and hobbles down some steps, so then he hobbles down the same way. That’s an old Three Stooges joke and this band was very bonded with the Three Stooges in the early days.
Whitford: There’s so much history to that song. Run-DMC did their version when we did that whole video with them. It was just enormous.
Hamilton: The song really resonated with our fans in the 1970s. It became this phenomenon of rock and hip-hop. Rick Rubin was producing Run-DMC and he was an Aerosmith fan. The guys in the group were fans of that song because they needed the beat. If you listen to the the lyrics, they are very much like a rap song. We came up with that long before there was hip-hop. When those guys in Run-DMC were kids, they were using that song to learn how to do their thing.
Whitford: It’s the perfect song to close with.