BRAD WHITFORD wears a grey roll-neck sweater and faded jeans. He looks slightly insecure up there on the stage of the Liverpool Empire. Tom Hamilton sports a brown leather jacket and jeans and peroxide locks. Joey Kramer has on a tan bumfreezer, scuzzy – as opposed to faded – jeans and grimy swept back cocker spaniel hair. From the front stall they look a mangy bunch indeed.
Zounds! And these are the guitarist, bassist and drummer with the biggest band in America today?
Ah, but wait! What is this pouting and peering flash of macho sultriness that is materialising by the drum podium? Watch as it dumps its dark tan leather trenchcoat down by Joey’s cymbals, retains its bottle of brandy and struts about a little aimlessly doing the old gypsy folk hero strut.
You know the sort of thing: subconscious flexing of the biceps in the fake leopardskin openfrock shirt – cut kinda like that little Ossie Clarke number that Mick wore to the Hyde Park concert in ’69 – and a little absent-minded gentle thrusting of the loins at the mikestand.
Yes, people, this is indeed Steven Tyler, vocalist in the Biggest Band In The USA, Aerosmith.
But just in case the message hasn’t quite got through to you, we’re gonna have to clear out of the auditorium right now and into the theatre’s lobby. Why, the word is that just one clicking of a photog’s camera at a sound-check in the States has proved enough for Steve to blow out the gig. And now I’m being told not to let him see my note-pad.
Boy, they really let you know it’s star material you’re dealing with, huh?
It should go without saying, of course, that all this nonsense is nothing more than a manifestation of the usual sycophancy with which bands’ employees – and particularly American bands’ employees – sometimes endeavour to bolster up their positions.
Before the show begins I take a ride up to Radio City with Steven Tyler to see him strut his stuff in a five-minute interview before heading on back to the Holiday Inn for a pre-gig shower.
Tyler’s lack of arrogance is almost stunning. In fact, he comes across as most affably communicative and the total antithesis of the volatile, wired-up mess that I’d put together from various sources’ descriptions.
Most of our conversation on the way back from the radio station is limited to a discussion of Queen. Tyler tells me how disappointed he’d been on seeing just how gauche are the stage movements of Freddie Mercury.
Mercury, incidentally, is just one-third of the faces that make up Tyler’s rock’n’roll composite mug. The other two being, of course, M P Jagger and Carly Simon.
This sounds promising news. Is there not, after all, a most sizable section of my acquaintances who suspect Aerosmith of being, in fact, the American equivalent of Queen? If Steven is unable to empathise with Freddie then maybe there’s hope for these lads from Boston yet.
ONLY STEVEN Tyler isn’t from Boston – he’s from Yonkers in New York. The son of a high school music teacher, Tyler got started in rock’n’roll playing drums in the house band at a small resort hotel in Sunapee, New Hampshire, owned by his parents.
At the beginning of this decade he met up with Tom Hamilton and Joe Perry, Aerosmith’s archetypal second generation guitar hero. Weary of the effort required to both sing and play drums at the same time, he shifted over to front the new band.
His roots linger, though: watching Tyler onstage he frequently appears to be hearing no other instrument but the drums.
And then Clive Davis at CBS signed Aerosmith.
And nothing happened. Until the word started getting round – after the band had played live dates absolutely anywhere in the States where they could find even 50 people to listen to them.
Even now Tyler is not happy about the degree of push being given them by their record company – he bitterly cites lack of radio airplay as one area where their promotion is falling down.
And even now Aerosmith have crossed the Atlantic to play a string of European 3,000 seaters – after drawing 65,000 to the last date of their US stadium tour at Anaheim in LA three weeks ago.
Mind you, in some respects Aerosmith are laughing on the other side of their faces right now – because when they signed to their management company, Leber and Krebs, the company was also handling the New York Dolls…and the US rock press loved the Dolls, loathed Aerosmith. And which of those bands has so far shifted four million copies of its four albums?
Now I must tell you that I don’t particularly get off on any of Aerosmith’s records, although the last two albums – Toys In The Attics and Rocks – come much closer to being listenable than the first couple. Even so, you don’t occupy 40 minutes of your time playing a record just because it’s “listenable”.
Or because all the influences – Yardbirds, Zeppelin, Who – get themselves spread out over these eight sides of vinyl.
Seeing them onstage, though…yeah, you know it makes sense. Aerosmith are one of the most exciting and energising live acts I’ve seen this year.
THE LIVERPOOL Empire is about three quarters sold out. Decidedly yobbo, this audience. If rock’n’roll fans still do downs and brown ale then, pop pickers, you bet your life they’re here tonight. They resemble a Steadman cartoon.
Now, though, even if we take it into account that that these young rowdies – this personification of rock’n’roll essence, if you like – must, by sheer virtue of the almost nil publicity that Aerosmith appear to have had over here, be true hardcore Aerosmith fans…Well, what a boisterous reception the lads get as they hit the stage.
Who’d have thought that this is the first gig they’ve ever played outside of the North American continent. Why, some of the chaps are so into Steven and his cronies that they find it necessary to wrench the odd seat of two out of the stalls as a demonstration of their affection.
Now the sound could be better tonight, it must be admitted. Listen, having to show for a soundcheck must have felt weird to the band this afternoon. Such events didn’t exist on that States stadium tour. Tonight must seem like one of those club dates back in New Hampshire.
Anyway, there’s a kinda whooshing cataclysm being born from the collective instrumentation onstage into the middle of which jumps what initially appears to be a choreographed quaalude in a maroon leopard-skin print catsuit. This is Steven Tyler.
Tyler’s stage movements certainly qualify him to speak ill of Freddie M’s.
Basically, he performs little more than an archetypal rock star pelvic shudder balanced out with a kind of fevered staccato hopscotch. Such energy, however, is injected by Tyler into the selling of himself onstage – such energy and such confidence, more to the point – that he provides an intensely absorbing visual focal-point.
Indeed, even more than the music – which at this gig is just some kind of wailing delicious nuttiness through which Tyler spits out blocks of (frequently Plant-esque) upper register notes – it’s Aerosmith’s sheer rock’n’roll energy that is exhilarating and that carries the show for them.
Where Aerosmith differ from, say, Zeppelin or the Stones (and the “Stones’ copyists” tag is a piece of fairly obvious bullshit, incidentally) is that the American band’s energy is so good-natured, so lacking in malevolence. In fact, like (yet again) Queen, maybe the main flaw in the package is a lack of arrogance to complement the sexuality/sensuality of their rock’n’roll package.
Why, Tyler even has this tendancy to sometimes actually smile at the audience.
But maybe this is all part of the plan, though. After all, no way is the audience gonna be intimidated by Aerosmith’s potential majesty when they start their set with the theme music from Jaws. Maybe Steve and the boys – iconoclasts as ever – are out to break down the barrier of rock music’s proscenium arch: let the audience be the band, let the band be the audience. But does Aerosmith’s stance inject A New Humanity Into Rock? This is the burning question of the hour.
THIS CURIOUS – yet strangely apt – Basic Contradiction In America’s Hottest Act manifests itself quite satisfactorily in one Joe Perry, the band’s obligatory Keith Richard lookalike and Jeff Beck standalike (though come to think of it, the mutant offspring of Patti Smith and Nick Kent is what Joe really looks like).
Joe is lead guitarist in Aerosmith. Joe likes to tuck himself back up against the drum proscenium in that tatty black leather jacket and just burn. Joe travels on the road with his wife, and on this British jaunt has taken care to go to a few pubs in London to…uhh…get next to the country.
In the restaurant after the gig Joe is the only member of the entourage who drinks a pint of Guinness with his meal. Joe wants to go visit Jimmy Page’s occult bookshop in London. Joe likes to stay up for three days and then sleep for a whole day.
Joe and I and his wife ride up to Glasgow in one of the Rolls Royce limos the next afternoon. But there’s a problem. Joe, you see, no sooner sits in the back seat than he, followed rapidly by Mrs. Perry, falls fast asleep for two hours. I read a book and wonder whether I should wake Joe to point out selected highlights of the Lake District.
I don’t. Instead I make notes of what Joe’s wearing. Joe’s wearing a black leather trench coat, a fawn T-shirt, and greenish pants. I notice with pleasure that both pants legs have rips in them. Certainly Joe is well on the way to the elegantly wasted category. He has a scarf wrapped round his upper torso.
Elissa wakes up and awakens Joe with a kiss. (Well, she should have done anyway). Then we like rap, man.
Joe is definitely the kind of guy whose life was probably saved by rock’n’roll: at first he slumps there in a display of utter diffidence, nervously scuffling his shoes together and initially wary of looking me in the face. Until he opens his mouth Joe seems wired up on some sort of middle-class misfit insecurity. Instead speech reveals him to be articulate – if a little soft-spoken – intelligent and Thinking. He’s probably Aerosmith’s latent metaphysician (every band must have one).
Joe dropped out of his Boston prep school – all of Aerosmith are healthy, middle-class American kids – a couple of weeks before graduation and went to work in a factory to pay for his amp.
Joe likes this rock’n’roll lifestyle because it gives him the opportunity to live out his outlaw fantasises – riding into town in flash cars and hiding out in luxurious anonymity of automated hotels.
Joe isn’t too happy that Aerosmith keep getting compared – status-wise, as it were – with Kiss and ZZ Top. Kiss are on the downward slide, he figures. He doesn’t like their music. He doesn’t like ZZ’s music either but – especially in the Southern States – they can still give Aerosmith an audience figures fight.
Joe figures that, for the band, coming over to Europe is just a kinda interesting expedition: do some playing and if they sell lots more records then all well and good. If they don’t well, no matter.
THE GLASGOW gig is almost sound perfect. Steven Tyler expends a far greater amount of energy on the onstage supremacy of the cod-piece than he did the previous night. And one wonders if he knows that there’s hardly a single female out in the audience.
However, Aerosmith go down possibly even better than before.
Despite the onstage flashing of the cloth-covered loins, Tyler, rather than being macho-packed, comes across during the set as an Almost Wholesome Nice Guy. This is probably because this is roughly what he is.
Support band Phoenix’s road crew have been bitching about the inadequate length of time their band have in which to do a sound-check. Tyler insists to his crew that they get longer. Then he even insists that they get a longer set if they so desire.
Steven Tyler and I don’t actually get to talk on tape until we’re on the flight down from Glasgow to London. It’s a ten o’clock flight and neither of us has had much sleep. So the tape consists mainly of “Yes” and “No” replies and a travelogue about the beauties of the Hawaian Islands. Will these Americans never comprehend the wisdom of providing we Brit journalists with Good Copy.
He does confirm, though, what had seemed pretty self-evident: that Steven Tyler is the driving force within Aerosmith. “You should have heard these guys when I first found them. They were terrible. Couldn’t play nothing.”
But it still doesn’t ring quite true when Steven Tyler seems to feel obliged to throw into the conversation, “First thing I do when I get back to London is get fucked and then go to Harrods.”
© Chris Salewicz, New Musical Express, 23 October 1976