In Dazed and Confused, a movie that came out 29 years ago and takes place 17 years earlier, in 1976, someone declares that getting Aerosmith tickets is “the top priority of the summer.” On Thursday, as summer 2022 drew to a close, Aerosmith was again the hottest ticket around, celebrating their 50th anniversary with great panache before a hometown audience in Boston’s Fenway Park, a few blocks from where they started out.
Has time collapsed? How does Steven Tyler, 74, still look and sound as good as he does, hitting the notes and making every lick of stage patter sound like a dirty joke? “Let’s pull one from our back pocket,” he asided to fellow Toxic Twin Joe Perry before a blistering “Mama Kin.” Later he yelled: “Give it up for our 50th annifuckingversary!”
This is technically Aerosmith’s 52nd annifuckingversary, but the Fenway show was delayed for two years by, well, you know. Maybe all that time we spent huddled inside, watching old movies, really did send us into a loop, trapping us in our personal 1976 or 1993 or wherever we took the most comfort, as the seasons withered around us? Steven Tyler doesn’t look like a 74-year-old so much as a man who has been 37 for 37 years.
But no: Time has not stopped. Anyone who watched Vince Neil wander through Mötley Crüe’s show at Fenway last month can confirm the clock keeps ticking – hard. But Tyler and Perry and the rest of the band have reached a detente with time by just refusing to engage: The Fountain of Youth seems to be play.
Aerosmith are a band that plays, in every sense — they look like they’re having fun, yes, but they’re also playing the hell out of those guitars and drums and yeah, that harmonica. A lot of bands of their station and standing can still deliver perfectly serviceable shows that play like jukebox musicals, with sumptuous help from tight schedules, sweetening and extra musicians. Aerosmith had extra hands on deck Thursday — the saxman was a cool touch — but you could see the core bandmates still pushing themselves, and experimenting. It’s exquisite. They demonstrated their tightness in the opening numbers — the on-the-nose “Back in the Saddle” and “Same Old Song and Dance” — but sounded even better when they loosened it up with fun, riskier fun takes on old classics. How are they still finding new ways to play “Sweet Emotion”? Thursday’s extended and exploratory “Dazed and Confused”-style opening was spellbinding. Subtle little niceties jumped out everywhere, like hammering the “Love in an Elevator” piano plinks extra hard to bring up its there-if-you-look Beatles connections. Always, they wore their love of blues on their flowing, glittery sleeves. Bobo got honked.
Basic notes for rock history: The weather was perfect. Perry and Tyler said the night set a Fenway attendance record, and the tough parking situation bore that out. Hours before the show, Tyler visited the Boston apartment where the band lived and recorded “Dream On” half a century ago. The show was held on the same night Aerosmith officially outlived the Queen of England.
At one point, the most Boston thing ever happened: The crowd adopted the ballpark chant LET’S GO AEROSMITH [CLAP, CLAP, CLAPCLAPCLAP]. That wasn’t the most Boston thing, not quite: The most Boston thing was when Tyler appeared on top of Fenway’s legendary Green Monster to play “Dream On” on a grand piano, fireworks flaring above him.
The night came after some difficult months for the band: Tyler had a by-all-accounts successful stint in rehab in the spring after years of sobriety. And there’s a weird situation with drummer Joey Kramer, who is suing his bandmates and also lost his wife, Linda, earlier this year. Drum tech John Douglas is filling in, very capably, until the band’s relationship with Kramer is sorted out.
The band picks up next week with a Las Vegas residency it started back in April 2019, before COVID knocked that train off its tracks. A clear crowd favorite at those shows, and on Thursday, was “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Aerosmith’s biggest hit.
When they came out with the power ballad, a love song for a blockbuster asteroid-coming-to-kill-us-all movie in 1998, it felt to fans like myself, who grew up on “Walk This Way,” like a sappy but forgivable victory lap on a fantastic run that was probably winding down. Little did we know that the song marked almost the exact midpoint in Aerosmith’s career … or at least their career so far. Of course, they’re still here playing with time, all these years after the apocalypse. See them while you still can. You’ll die before they do.