While the “American Idol” stage stands only about three miles from the Hollywood Bowl, the Aerosmith frontman that sat sequestered and confined behind a judges table on the Fox reality juggernaut for two years was unleashed Monday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Steven Tyler, left to his own unorthodox rhythms and unshackled from broadcast network restrictions, became a man obsessed with delivering on his own musical legacy and a polished, if unspectacular, two-hour set proved it’s been a long and prosperous, if not sometimes bumpy, time spent in the spotlight.
Mixing music and Hollywood – a theme that would return at the end of the night as well — Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee introduced the boys. Lee and Aerosmith share a connection as the band performed the soundtrack of 2002 hit “Spider-Man” as well as other variations of the song.
The band opened the show with 1977’s “Draw the Line,” with Tyler in top hat and jacket. As his trademark, he immediately grabbed the mic stand like a play toy, keeping it in constant motion and singing with a pitch that is uniquely his.
Much of the show’s nearly 20-song set from this stop on the “Global Warming Tour,” in fact, would come from albums that feel long ago. While the band has 14 studio albums, their last one reaches all the way back to 2004’s “Honkin on Bobo.” Back-to-back entries “Pump” (1989) and “Get a Grip” (1993) remain the top commercial successes, with each topping out at 7 million in sales.
The reasons for Aerosmith’s sporadic studio output are well documented: drug abuse and infighting within the band among the biggest reasons. But when they were finally able to get their act together, the Boston-based supergroup often proved they can deliver hits like few others can.
It was those megahits, of course, that brought the Bowl crowd to its feet; though, to be fair, they were standing most of the night anyway. Tyler saved most of the classics for near the end of the night, including “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way” and “Dream On,” where he opens the song playing piano and a few moments later guitarist Joe Perry is standing atop of it, nailing those memory-engrained riffs that have endured via classic rock stations and car-radio sing-alongs that have passed from generation to generation.
Perry, sometimes for years at a time, has been at war with Tyler, but he remains the band’s backbone, and when the two are both musically and emotionally in unison, the results remain electrifying. As Tyler often comes to the lip of the stage – one that juts into the audience – it’s Perry at his side, providing both physical support when Tyler leans back, and musical reinforcement, with his six-string complementing Tyler’s still-signature pipes
Other songs that resonated with the crowd included a scalding version of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” a robust “Livin’ on the Edge” and a sexy “Love in an Elevator.”
On the down side, when you accumulate a truckload of hits over the length of a career that few have achieved, but don’t plan on playing for four hours – unless you’re Bruce Springsteen, of course – fan favorites get left aside. Nowhere to be found was the playful “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Toys in the Attic” or “Janey’s Got a Gun,” just to name a few.
Knowing full well one of the business functions of a concert is to sell new records, Aerosmith played two songs from their upcoming album, “Music From Another Dimension,” due out in November. “Oh, Yeah” and “Legendary Child,” which Tyler debuted on “Idol,” were the titles the band believes have staying power. Tyler practically demanded the audience connect with “Oh, Yeah,” telling them forcefully, “You will learn to love that shit,” before moving on.
And what would a rock show being without the requisite drum solo? Joey Kramer offered his unique version – complete with his head used as a drumstick – and the results were rather uninspiring.
Unlike the 14-year-old girls who turned on “American Idol” in 2010 and asked their mom who was the old man sitting in Simon Cowell’s seat, the sold-out Bowl crowd needed no such introduction. At 64 years old, Tyler’s place in rock history is well established and he knows how to deliver to the faithful.
Not that they could always tell, however. For some reason, the band decided not to use the video screens employed for most Bowl shows and those sitting toward the back of the cavernous venue were barely able to make out the video in the rear of the stage. Those paying the extraordinary price of $350 to sit up front were able to see it clearly, but whether that was a worthwhile investment depends solely on exactly on what a night of greatest hits are worth. Or how your stock portfolio is doing.
As if he needed reminder they were in Hollywood, Tyler brought on Johnny Depp to play guitar on the night’s last number, “Train Kept a Rollin.’ ” The actor contributed to the new album, so the band knew he could deliver musically in addition to bringing some serious star wattage to close out the proceedings.
Cheap Trick opened with an hourlong set that was fairly nondescript until those still filing in to the Bowl responded warmly to the group’s signature songs: “The Flame,” “Dream Police,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender.”
To their credit, lead singer Robin Zander and guitarist Rick Nielsen have mined a career on the strength of those four tunes. Sadly, the wonderfully monikered longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos (aka Brad Carlson) – known for his seemingly nonchalant playing, all the while with a cigarette dangling from his mouth – no longer tours.
If Cheap Trick remains the permanent opening act, however, that could change. Who’s to say he wouldn’t want to come back in 20 years, banging away on a double-bill just to see Tyler still muster enough energy to satisfy, long after “American Idol” is gone.