He likes ’em… or does he? Well, kind of. NICK KENT vacillates before the… AEROSMITH BEHEMOTH
DESPITE LEAD singer Steven Tyler’s attempts during interview time to strike vaguely charismatically tough poses by means of strutting forth seemingly endless reams of brash rhetoric (which more often than not end up making him sound overbearingly obnoxious and callous), Aerosmith are not the stuff of dynamic or riveting copy, even in these days of interest-drought in the tardy old rock world.
The reasons for this state of affairs are fairly obvious; as obvious indeed as is virtually everything else about this group, starting from their influences, their chosen attitude, the contents of their combined musical clout, right through, ultimately, to their impressively well orchestrated success in the mother country.
Be that as it may, their performance at the dread Hammersmith Odeon on the first of the week still impressed me enough to place them well within the foreground of the sweepstakes which involve all these contemporary golden-boy units from the likes of Kiss through to Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. None of these bands will ever achieve real greatness with their musical contributions. They say practically nothing and their enigma potential is similarly a grisly nil.
But what they do have is an unerring ability to take care of business, to amp it out in a fairly base, hyperproficient manner which obviously totally satisfies their many followers who seem to find the utterly predictable music and attitudes invigorating enough to instantly shell out the shekels when the new album gets released and the nationwide tour hits town, etc.
To concentrate on Aerosmith, though, and to return to that obviousness backing up their particular scam, you’ve got to admire ’em for the way they dish it out. I mean, if Rocks, the last album, isn’t any aesthetic epoch-maker, it’s still probably the ballsiest piece de resistance of sheer commercial hard-rock savvy we’ll get this year, the perfect grit-eared antidote to the energy crisis young American record-buyers instinctively picked up on when they heard the last Stones and, particularly, the last Led Zep anti-climax.
Rocks was all fast hard tempos, good healthy aggression and braggadocio, a cluster of smart hook-lines and the whole thing sequestered within a dense, echo-filled pit approximating a sense of punk-harmless malevolence. Definitive back-alley zip-gun pose-rock, it is, and that’s what Aerosmith were selling on Sunday.
With a well-mustered vengeance, one might add.
For openers they broke loose with a suitably frenzied ‘Helter Skelter’ (yup, the old Beatles kicker that Charlie Manson adopted as his call-to-much-gore-letting) immediately removing all those vaguely unsettling sinister Manson implications simply by grabbing the number by the lapels and shaking it down to resemble some kind of a sonic rumble.
The next two items (both unrecognisable to these ears, so presumably they were hatched from either the first or third of their albums to both of which I’ve experienced minimal exposure) followed with such a fleet-footed frenzy that virtually all my doubts and suspicions concerning the potentially ultra-precocious Tyler were diminished to nilsville, to be replaced by a fairly positive approval of his obstreperous dynamism and constant energy.
Actually, more impressive was guitarist Joe Perry who, as prototype Keith Richards go, is one of the best simply by dint of his keeping the posing down to an agreeable minimum and using his talents to direct the band by providing a strong harness for the general drive, and playing highly adept garage-band-guitarist-comes-of-age guitar.
His supposedly ceaseless adoration of Jeff Beck fortunately never forced him to lose perspective of either his capabilities or, more to the point, his role within the group, so that there was no tiresome virtuoso nonsense abounding from his corner or, indeed, from any other faction of Aerosmith (that includes Tyler, surprisingly enough, who thankfully never appeared to lose sight of the fact that he is just one cog in the machinery, as opposed to being the lead singer apart with back-up unit).
Aerosmith, then, played together, though I have my suspicions that drummer Joey Kramer could’ve been having an off-night as percussion did tend to flag at certain points. Overall, though, there were the moments of course — like the whole of ‘Big Ten Inch Record’, the beginning of ‘Last Child’, the rushing-to-the-mike-for-that weird hook-line harmony on ‘Sick As A Dog’, the final thrashing fanfare into ‘Train Kept A-Rollin” and a steaming encore of ‘Toys’.
Two prime drawbacks, however…
For one of those massive auditorium-filling combines, Aerosmith’s sense of pacing a set is surprisingly limited. Indeed, they slow down only once for the U.S. hit ‘Dream On’ (a pretty unremarkable hard rock ballad to these ears) so that it’s virtually all hard-nosed quasi-frenzy which can start to grate. (In fact, this latter point seems to be a particularly grievous problem amongst Boston bands: the J. Geils bunch also used to end up pacing the set into the ground by using the same dynamic interminably).
Also the volume level was practically deafening throughout severely impairing all the finer points (the what? — Ed) of the Aerosmith set, which is just inexcusable on any level. My ears are still fogged over with a sonic ringing some 24 hours after the event.
They were good, though, were Aerosmith, and if they can be bothered to do enough touring in Europe they’ll crack it here in a way that Kiss, say, never will. Without saying anything remotely original, they’re carrying on a tradition, doing what they do well. They’ll probably never be great, but they’re good enough alright, and getting better. I wouldn’t count myself as a part of their generation of followers but then I don’t feel alienated by them in the least and find them, if uninspiring, adequately condonable as purveyors of rock’n’roll. The Blank Generation could do a lot worse than Aerosmith.
© Nick Kent, New Musical Express, 23 October 1976