PHILADELPHIA — Aerosmith is one of the best things to come out of Boston, and soon it will exist only in memories and playbacks — like Tom Brady, “Cheers” and Larry Bird.
The quintet has given the world 50 years of classic rock and some of the most enduring songs of all time, including “Dream On,” “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion.”
Aerosmith began its farewell “Peace Out” tour Saturday in Philadelphia with a two-hour set spanning its voluminous catalog — giving the world one last chance to see what earned these skinny guys from New England an exalted place in the pantheon of rock’s all-time greats.
Singer Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, and bassist Tom Hamilton all wore black cowboy hats as they ripped into “Back In The Saddle,” the song that has opened Aerosmith shows for decades as a giant Aerosmith logo folded down from the rafters, flanked by an even bigger set of wings.
Tyler and Perry sang from either side of a microphone stand draped in Tyler’s trademark scarves, recreating one of rock’s most iconic poses. Tyler nailed the extreme high note at the end of the song, proving that even at age 75 and after a life filled with pharmaceutical misadventures, he can still bring it.
“Love In an Elevator” and “Cryin’,” two major radio hits from the late ‘80s and early ’90s, followed, setting up the band’s controversial hit “Janie’s Got A Gun,” a song about a girl who was sexually abused by her father.
The band also tossed fans some rare chestnuts like “No More, No More,” on which Tyler forgot several of the words; “Adam’s Apple,” “Seasons Of Wither” and the Mississippi Delta blues-inspired “Hangman Jury.”
But there’s only room for so many songs in a two-hour show, and with a catalog as deep as Aerosmith’s, some of the biggest hits got cut, including “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” which often closed the show on previous tours.
That Aerosmith even played Philadelphia is amazing, given its fans’ history of injuring band members. In Oct. 1977, someone threw an M80 explosive onstage that went off in Tyler’s face, burning his cornea and opening a bloody wound on Perry’s arm. A year later, at another Philadelphia show, someone threw a bottle that shattered against an onstage speaker, sending glass shards into Tyler’s face and mouth.
Tyler referenced those assaults during Saturday’s show, recalling them as “the big bang theory” before Perry shushed him. Tyler quickly changed the subject to the fact that his mother’s family came from Philadelphia.
Saturday’s show was the 40th that Aerosmith has played in the City of Brotherly Love, and ended without anyone needing paramedics.
There were the typical opening-night glitches. Tyler started singing the chorus of “Dream On” a verse too soon before catching himself. Perry’s guitar died a few notes into the iconic opening riff to “Walk This Way.” And after a masterful harmonica solo on “Hangman Jury,” Tyler tossed the small instrument backwards over his shoulder, only to realize he’d need it again at the end of the song. A roadie was summoned to hand it back to him.
But so much more went right than went wrong, and it’s been that way for decades at Aerosmith concerts. Perry was positively brilliant on vocals and guitar during a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 three-chord blues jam “Stop Messin’ Round,” during which he and Whitford traded solos, and Tyler gave the harmonica another workout.
Perry even played a guitar that the wife of the late guitar legend Jeff Beck gave him — keeping Beck’s presence onstage for a bit longer — and “Rats In The Cellar,” a song about the filthy environs of drug use in New York in the 1970s, was as hard, fast and tight as it ever was.
Drummer Joey Kramer opted out of the farewell tour “to focus his full attention on his family and health,” according to the band. John Douglas, a drummer, artist and drum kit customizer for acts including Van Halen, ZZ Top and Guns ‘N’ Roses, filled in admirably.
Bassist Tom Hamilton got a huge ovation while playing the opening notes of “Sweet Emotion,” possibly the most famous bass intro to a song in rock history. And a giant elephant, frog, gnome and teddy bear descended from the ceiling on “Toys In The Attic.”
“Walk This Way” was a huge worldwide hit for more than a decade, before taking on added significance in 1986 when rap group Run-D.M.C. teamed up with Aerosmith on a version of the song that is widely credited with helping break down the barriers that had separated fans of rock and rap. (In case the significance of the breakthrough was lost on anyone, the video for the collaboration shows the two acts literally kicking down a wall that separated them in adjacent recording studios, and finally playing together.)
During the song’s performance to close the show Saturday night, confetti and streamers cascaded down from the ceiling; Tyler grabbed a piece of confetti from the air and ate it.
The opening act, The Black Crowes, presumably had a lead singer onstage. But vocalist Chris Robinson was so thoroughly drowned out by his brother Rich’s guitar for most of their hour-long set that it was hard to tell. I’ve got a remedy: turn the guitars down and turn the vocals up. That shouldn’t be too hard to handle.
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