Show Review: Steven Tyler at PPAC

tylernassaucolliseumOkee dokee folks… I had the chance to get to the Steven Tyler show last Saturday night at the Providence Performing Arts Center. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d heard many things about Tyler’s “Out On A Limb” Tour — it was going to be country, unplugged, or music and talking, but I tried to keep an open mind. It had been decades since I’d seen Aerosmith and now just consider myself a casual fan. Back in the ’70s, Aerosmith was one of my favorite bands. I saw them at the Providence Civic Center a few times and once at the (long gone) Leroy Theater in Pawtucket (it’s now a Walgreens). I will never forget the vibration of Aerosmith’s music causing chunks of plaster to fall from the Leroy’s ceiling. Remembering this worried me that PPAC’s gold leaf ceiling might be in peril!

Anyway, after one of those ’70s Aerosmith shows I was standing on the sidewalk near the Civic Center and a big limo stopped in front of me and Steven Tyler got out. Evidently he knew the guy who was standing next to me. I didn’t know the guy. Coincidentally I was holding an 8×10 photo of Tyler that I had taken at a previous Aerosmith show. I asked him to autograph it and he replied, “Sure, do you have a pen?” Of course I did not, I was 16 and stupid. He got back into the limo and it drove away.

As time went on, the allure of Aerosmith faded for me when they became more pop and steered away from the breakthrough sound that made them famous, though when I heard Tyler was on the bill for PPAC I decided that I should check out the show.

When I arrived at PPAC I saw the stage decorated with some retro signage — an arrow, a big heart, an MG plaque and a few other items. There was a screen on the back wall showing images that were very similar to what Roseann Cash presented at her recent show — slices of America/Appalachia in the early 1900s. Country music played over the house PA system and I saw a few folks wearing cowboy hats — I got a little worried. I am NOT a country music fan. When Andy Smith from The ProJo sat down next to me, he showed me a print-out of the set list from the previous night’s show and I felt much better!

The show started a bit late, 8:20, but that is on time in the rock world. The lights dimmed and a short video played of old interviews with Steven Tyler. As that wrapped the six-member Loving Mary Band took the stage and Tyler followed. The crowd was already on its feet and stayed there for the entire show. Tyler was looking very much like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. They started the night with the Aerosmith classic “Sweet Emotion.” Many, many bright lights and strobes filled the auditorium with blinding flashes of colorful light. The band consisted of a drummer, two guitarists, bassist, banjo/mandolin player and a backing vocalist/acoustic guitarist/harmonica player. Tyler screamed into the mic on his trademark streamer-laced stand. After “Sweet Emotion” they went right into Aerosmith’s “Cryin.” When that song finished Tyler growled into the mic, “We’re out on tour, Out On A Limb, and out of our f*cking minds!”

Most of the banter during the night was laced with colorful expletives. He talked about his “mama” and photos of her appeared on the screen. He said that when he was young she told him, “Don’t worry about biting off more than you can chew, you have a big mouth!” He talked about his musical influences and the band went into a few cover songs: “I’m Down” and “Come Together” by the Beatles, “Piece of My Heart” (made famous by Janis Joplin — this was sung with the female bass player who had an amazing voice — and an obscure 1969 Fleetwood Mac cover, “Rattlesnake Shake.” He went on to talk about how Aerosmith started up in Sunapee, New Hampshire, and when Joe Perry drove his MG over to Tyler’s house so he could ask him to come and see his band play. Perry found him mowing the lawn. They flashed a photo of Tyler mowing the lawn in a black Speedo. I still can’t get that image out of my head!!! Tyler mentioned it was Joe Perry’s birthday and then sang “Happy Birthday” to him. If Perry was anywhere around it was unknown to all. They played a few more songs: “Jaded,” “Love Is Your Name,” “Little Brown Gal,” on which Tyler played ukelele, and then he brought out singer-songwriter Alyssa Bonagura and they sang her song, “I Make My Own Sunshine” together. This was a very pop flavored song and really didn’t fit Tyler at all. He continued with some country-flavored songs that were more akin to Big and Rich than Waylon Jennings. Tyler commented, “Country songs are just four chords and the truth … we’re going to bullsh*t you all night long.” He added, “This is the Out On A Limb Tour so we’re going to stretch this out until the motherf*cker snaps!” Of course that brought lots more screaming from the already vocal crowd. “What It Takes,” “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” and “My Own Worst Enemy” followed in the set.

Tyler sat down behind the white grand piano and went into Aerosmith’s signature song, “Dream On.” In the audience was a sea of smart phone screens filming the performance. During this song the band appeared to be relegated to the left of the stage seemingly afraid to cross an imaginary boundary over to Tyler’s side. It looked odd to me. At the finish of “Dream On” the drummer took a solo that morphed into “Walk This Way.” Tyler moved about the stage singing and dragging his mic stand, sometimes holding the mic end out into the crowd to encourage singing. At one point someone in the front row gave Tyler an envelope and he stuck it down the front of his pants. He then took it out and offered it back to the person. They waved it off and he stuck it back down his pants. Who knows what that communique contained. The song continued and Tyler did a call and response bit and some “woo-hoos” with the crowd. At 9:44 he ended the set and they all exited the stage.

After about two minutes of screaming from the congregation, they returned. Tyler moaned for a bit with a Middle Eastern feel, and then went into a modified version of “Janie’s Got A Gun”. I THINK that it had been transposed into a minor key to make it a bit more haunting. He then imparted a story that involved lady bugs falling out of a ceiling and writing in a cabin. The song “Only Heaven” followed. A drum beat and bass riff started the next number and then they all got on board for “Train Kept A-Rollin”. He went with more call and response but this time it was him singing “Train Kept A-Rollin” and the crowd chanting “ALL NIGHT LONG!” At 10:03 Tyler finished the show.

Steven Tyler is best known as the front man of the band Aerosmith, but in recent years he has stepped out on his own for some solo work and other occasional outings like judging “American Idol.” As the front man of Aerosmith he can’t be rivaled. As a solo act he lacks the chemistry with others that he has with Aerosmith. He is also aging. At 68 years old he just doesn’t seem to have the energy to jump and dance like he used to and I really didn’t see any of that at this show. The Loving Mary Band seem to be an apt and talented band, but they are an odd fit with Tyler, even if he was trying to change gears into a more countrified sound. They are young, as most of the band appeared to be about half of Tyler’s age. When they played Aerosmith songs they were more subdued than the original and to me they weren’t played convincingly. Tyler’s voice was stuck in the mix and really didn’t rise above enough to really be able to accurately judge whether his voice has held out over the years. I found the overall sonic mix to be way too bottom heavy. And when Tyler spoke, a lot of the time it was hard to understand because of the nature of his gravelly voice and the people behind me who continued to scream all night. Then there were the lights. Those damn strobe lights. Eight of them as far as I could tell. Facing the audience and used repeatedly. They were painful to the eyes, at least my eyes. I am surprised that someone wasn’t having a seizure in the aisle! So, for most of the show I sat and my view was of the ass in front of me. No, the person wasn’t an ass, I was looking at their ass. The crowd did not sit down once. Yes, I sound like an old fart reviewing a rock concert. But I still know what works and what doesn’t! Anyway, despite my criticism of the show Tyler’s rabid fans were surely satisfied. My girlfriend was. She loved it. I just listen differently.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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