Aerosmith and J. Geils have both been dubbed “the bad boys from Boston,” not a city especially prized for its badness. But Saturday they delivered the ultimate Boston experience, as Aerosmith played center field at Fenway Park with the rarely reunited J. Geils Band — after a Jumbotron intro from Denis Leary. The only thing missing was a Ric Ocasek cameo. How hardcore was this crowd? The six guys ahead of me in the beer line were wearing matching Magic Dick wigs, in a tribute to the J. Geils Band’s harmonica player, who still sports the hardest-rocking Jewfro in the biz.
Hometown Aerosmith fans are different from other Aerosmith fans, and that mainly has to do with Joe Perry. It’s tough to overstate his strange grip on the local psyche. Tyler is a star who belongs to the whole world, but Perry, that dude belongs to Boston. Partly this is because after years of touring the globe, he still looks and talks like an Italian guy from way down Route 3. But it’s also that underdog spirit — everything comes easy for Tyler. That’s why Red Sox fans cherish Carl Yastrzemski more than Ted Williams, who was an infinitely better player — Yaz tried harder, and needed us more. Williams was the best player in baseball right up to the day he retired, while Yaz grunted and suffered and never had any fun. Yet that was part of what we loved about him. Joe Perry has a bit of that.
The Geils gang have that same local-hero mystique. Outside of New England, they’re best known as the guys who did “Freeze Frame” and “Love Stinks,” but at home they’re the classic example of a bar band made good, with the quintessentially Bostonian touch that they were art students posing as greaser hoodlums. Even when they went national, they remained the kind of band that thought it was cool to call their live album Blow Your Face Out. They began their set with the arcane R&B cover “First I Look at the Purse,” fully confident that we would all know the words (we did), and skipped the hits until after they’d rewarded the faithful with ridiculously obscure early gems. Peter Wolf has just released his latest masterful solo album, Midnight Souvenirs, but he slipped back into the role of the Woofa Goofa, yowling classics like “Southside Shuffle,” “Give It To Me,”and “Lookin’ for a Love,” the show-stopper from Live Full House. The whole set was aimed at insane Geils fans — but there’s no other kind.
If Geils wanted to prove their mettle as a great Boston band, Aerosmith wanted to prove they’re still a band at all. So they were in showily make-nice mode all night, from the ferocious opening stomp of “Train Kept A-Rollin.’” Tyler draped his arm around Perry during “Cryin,'” singing the line “You got that certain something” into his ear. He also made this announcement: “The rumors are true. I am carrying Joe Perry’s baby.” Given the band’s nightmares over the past year or so — smashed bones, rehab, breakup threats, the humiliating “I am the rainbow” episode, Tyler’s campaign for Paula Abdul’s old job — Tyler picked the right time and place for a hambone display of camaraderie.
Still, the bizarre set list was overloaded with Nineties goop ballads, and not even their best ones — who wouldn’t take “Amazing” or “Jaded” over “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing”? Why skip “Mama Kin” and “Toys in the Attic” to make room for not one but two turkeys from Nine Lives, an album literally nobody has played since the week it came out? Would it kill them to play “Sick as a Dog”?
Everybody in the house would have bet their sweet sassafrass on an AeroGeils encore jam on “Lord of the Thighs,” but it never happened. Tyler reportedly clashed with Wolf before the show, demanding Wolf stay off the catwalk, until Perry put his foot down on Wolf’s behalf. So the night ended prematurely with Tyler doing “Dream On” at a white piano atop the Green Monster, and the finale “Walk This Way.” The emotional and musical highlight of Aerosmith’s set had to be “Last Child,” with its refrain, “Hooome sweeet hooome.” It applied to the city, as they played the song just a few blocks from their original Boylston Street crash pad. But it also applied to the band, because these guys are stuck together, like it or not. If Tyler thinks American Idol is a groovy upgrade, he should have his assistant’s assistant Google “Paula Abdul career curve” first. Seriously. It’s not good, dude. So keep this shit together. Like the Joe Perry Project used to say, back when Tyler and Perry split up in the late seventies: Once a rocker, always a rocker.