From the beginning, they promised a spectacle. "We're gonna go all Aerosmith mojo on your ass tonight," lead screecher Steven Tyler promised vaguely but aggressively less than a minute after appearing center stage in a cloud of smoke. And later: "I feel like Wild Bill Hickok over here with this shit." Outfitted like a gay pirate with a strut like a zoo peacock, Tyler made good on his promise across an occasionally disjointed, frequently bloated show of living legendary proportions.
If that last part -- the presence of real live Rock and Roll Hall of Famers -- wasn't clear to the Pepsi Center's packed-in legions of merch purchasers and moms, the band's hypnotic, robotic intro let us in on the secret early on. "You are about to enter a great invention," a very Kraftwerkian voice announced, "an experience of awe and mystery...from which you may never return." Cue: Joe Perry and Steve Tyler shooting from the stage, bedazzled and unbuttoned, as if expelled from some invisible whale's blowhole.
Slide show: Aerosmith brings its mojo to Denver
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Brandishing his ribbon-laced mike stand like a samurai sword, Tyler checked in with the crowd ("Was that good enough for yo ass?") before showing off both his abs and a vocal range as impressive as Mariah Carey's. (VH1 reality show pitch: Diva Duels.) Throughout early hits including "Love in an Elevator" and "Livin' on the Edge," Tyler whirled like a spin cycle across the stage and its center island while howling, at full volume with full technical skill, the songs on which his band built its career. Laugh at his American Idol stint, call him a has-been, judge his book on whatever cover you want -- but then listen to that voice. Are we done now?
Behind him -- and occasionally, to force awe and wonder in the audience, beside him -- Joe Perry shredded his guitar like the lining of a birdcage while stomping on the band's own logo projected on the floor below him. During Aerosmith's two-hour show, the guys indulged both the crowd and themselves, performing into the camera as much as out of it and allowing each member an extensive solo.
Before playing the first hint of new material ("Oh Yeah"), Tyler complimented the crowd ("Sexy! You are sexy!") and then asked it for feedback: "You like the new shit or the old shit? Old shit? My bad!" He then, with a grin on his face, ignored the answer, instead crooning straightforward lady-loving lyrics about all the things he'd do for you, baby, as much of the crowd sat down.
While the band's powerful guitars -- and constant solos -- occasionally overwhelmed even Tyler's glass-shattering vocals, the performance continued to wobble between show and spectacle territory. After Joey Kramer took center stage, beat out a solo using both hands and elbows and earned three rounds of applause, Perry took to the spotlight to sing lead vocals on "Combination" and the Fleetwood Mac cover, "Stop Messin' Around." But there's nothing an Aerosmith fan likes quite as much as Tyler and Perry together (not even Tyler humping the stage -- or via the video camera, the face of the tech holding it), and so the first set closed as it began, with the two rock stars singing, mouths stretched agape, into the same mike.
On the other hand, there's nothing Aerosmith seems to like more than a good entrance, and a smoke-filled one at that. After a short wait full of raucous applause, Tyler rose from the stage once again, tickling a white piano in a smoky white haze as Perry wielded his axe on top of it. At this point, the audience's hope of hearing "Dude Looks Like a Lady," "Cryin'" or any number of other hits fell to pieces like so many specks of confetti floating above their seats. As Tyler concluded his final acrobatics and Perry whipped his torn shirt across the stage, thousands of tiny white dots landed on a sweaty crowd, tipping the balance firmly toward the side of spectacle.
Aerosmith Pepsi Center - 8/1/12 Denver, CO
01. "Draw the Line" 02. "Love in an Elevator" 03. "Same Old Song and Dance" 04. "Livin' on the Edge" 05. "Oh Yeah" (forthcoming album) 06. "Last Child" *drum solo* 07. "Rag Doll" 08. "Boogie Man" 09. "Combination" 10. "Stop Messin' Around" (Fleetwood Mac cover) 11. "The Peter Gunn Theme" (Henry Mancini cover) 12. "What It Takes" 13. "Legendary Child" (forthcoming album) 14. "Come Together" (Beatles cover) 15. "Rats in the Cellar" 16. "Sweet Emotion" 17. "Walk This Way"
ENCORE 18. "Dream On" 19. "Train-Kept-A-Rollin'" (Tiny Bradshaw cover)
Click through for Cheap Trick review and a Critic's Notebook.
Before the bad boys from Boston came on stage, their partners in age and adoration, Cheap Trick, kicked off the night. Across a generous opening set that exceeded an hour, lead singer Robin Zander growled through the hits and highlights while bathing in the applause that resulted. Dressed like a cross between a Macy's Parade drum major and the cop from the Village People, Zander narrated an expertly arranged twelve-song set that earned the night's first showing of a lighter -- during "The Flame," appropriately.
The slower but robust band invoked all of its trademark lore as bassist Tom Petersson showcased the twelve-string bass he's credited with inventing and guitarist Rick Nielsen brought out the five-necked behemoth that proves, yes, this is really a Cheap Trick show. Through ballads and stompers, the guys stalked the stage, in front of traditionally checkered amps and stands, tucked into leather pants and mod scarves. Nielsen, with typical panache, tossed picks into the crowd with abandon, occasionally catching them in his mouth and spitting them toward fans instead of using his hands.
And when it came time for the band's biggest hit, Zander indulged the audience with its trademark live into: "I want you...to want...me!" Cheap Trick has plenty of experience live and in Denver -- according to Nielsen, they first stopped by with KISS in 1977 -- and it shows. What hands weren't already slinging air guitar took on new tasks, either clapping together in the air or holding their beers there to stretch the warmly received nostalgia across two more hits.
Cheap Trick Pepsi Center - 8/1/12 Denver, CO
01. "Clock Strikes Ten" 02. "Big Eyes" 03. "California Man" 04. "Ain't That a Shame" (with Brad Winford) 05. "On Top of the World" 06. "She's Tight" 07. "Need Your Love" 08. "I Know What I Want" 09. "The Flame" 10. "I Want You to Want Me" 11. "Dream Police" 12. "Surrender"
Slide show: Aerosmith brings its mojo to Denver
Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for glory rock, but I like a spectacle even more. By the Way: If you read this, random well-dressed Cheap Trick fan, email me. I want you to want me.
Random Detail: Lions, cougars and MILFs, oh my!
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