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Aerosmith Still Living on the Edge at the Forum: Concert Review

Aerosmith at the Forum - H 2014
Courtesy of Steve Appleford

The Bottom Line

Classic rock veterans find balance between '90s video hit-makers and '70s hard rockers.

Venue

The Forum
Los Angeles, CA (Wednesday, July 30)

After dropping out of the spotlight with a stiff album and Steven Tyler's departure from "American Idol," the bad boys from Boston perform like they still have something to prove.

Back in 1997, Aerosmith released an album titled Nine Lives. Seventeen years later, the veteran quintet is still living those lives as one of the few bands from the '70s currently on the arena circuit with its original line-up still intact. The band most famously rose from the ashes of its late '70s flameout to come back more than a decade later as a video-ready hit machine thanks to Run-DMC, songwriters Desmond Child and Diane Warren, and video vixens Alicia Silverstone and Tyler's daughter, Liv.

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Although the radio hits stopped coming shortly after the turn of the century, Aerosmith found a way to remain relevant this decade with Tyler appearing as a judge on American Idol and the rest of the band threatening to replace him for his lack of commitment.

Thankfully, that never happened, but the band released the long-delayed Music from Another Dimension! in 2012 with little notice, selling just 63,000 in its debut week. While indifference to the new material has left the band questioning if it will ever release new material again, Wednesday at the Forum Aerosmith played like a band with something to prove — its relevance.

The question remained, however, which Aerosmith would be on display — the gritty '70s rockers who provided an American alternative to Led Zeppelin's misty mountain hops or the '90s hit-makers who made some of their old fans cringe when they scored their first No. 1 hit with the Warren-penned power ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"?

The answer, of course, was both. Yet after opening with mid-'70s staple "Back in the Saddle," the band quickly shifted gears to their '90s video era, with Tyler and Joe Perry striking wind-blown rock star poses in front of fans and the video cameras manned on stage that projected their images on the big-screen backdrop. When five songs into the set, the band did "Livin' on the Edge," it even had clips from the video projected on the screen along with the live performance. Tyler was strong in voice and the band played like a well-oiled machine, yet with the band concentrating on newer material — "newer" as in 20 years old rather than 35 or 40 — some of the older fans were bound to be disappointed.

That all changed seven songs in when the whipped out "Kings and Queens" from 1977's Draw the Line, the final complete album by the original line-up before it imploded. With Tyler's pleading vocals doubled by auxiliary keyboardist Buck Johnson, who also supplied the songs elegant piano runs, it gave the hardcore fans just what they were looking for. That was followed by rip-roaring take of "Toys in the Attic" that left Tyler's voice so shattered that mid-song he grabbed a bottle of water, which he quickly gulped and then held in front of his crotch before he unloaded over the crowd.

As Tyler put it, the band continued to alternate between "the old shit and the new shit," but there were a few missteps. "Monkey on My Back," a rock hit from 1989's Pump, isn't one of the band's best or best-known songs from that era and could have been replaced with a dozen of more worthy tunes. Even worse was "Freedom Fighter," a Perry-sung number from the last album about a veteran alienated by the government. Flashing the song's pedestrian lyrics only reminded us that Perry should follow his own advice and let the music do the talking. During the band's cover of the blues novelty "Big Ten Inch Record," Johnny Depp made one of his now obligatory guest shots on guitar, which have gone from a surprise to an expectation.

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As the nearly two-hour set wore on, the band continued to mix the newer hits with the older classics, sandwiching the sappy ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" between the early deep cuts "Lord of the Things" and "No More No More." Closing the set with "Walk This Way," with Tyler perhaps giving a nod to the song's hip-hop revival by imploring the crowd to put their hands in the air.

For the encore, the band pulled out the stops with their other signature hit "Dream On," per usual, but it came with actual surprise —- backing by the Southern California Children's Chorus, the same vocal ensemble that backed Tyler and Perry on a version of the song earlier this year for the ESPN Boston Marathon bombing documentary Dream On: Stories from Boston's Strongest. With the 30-member plus singing ensemble on a balcony overlooking the stage, Perry and Tyler each took dramatic turns atop the latter's white piano.

With Tyler returning to the stage sporting fluorescent face paint, Aerosmith closed it out not with their standard cover of "Train Kept A-Rollin," but with their own ''70s warhorse "Sweet Emotion," highlighting the musicianship of the Tom Hamilton-Joey Kramer rhythm section and second guitarist Brad Whitford's licks. At this late date, we're not exactly sure how many lives Aerosmith has left, but at the Forum it played like it there was no end in sight.

Former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash opened the night with a nearly one-hour-long set by his latest clumsily named combo Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Kennedy, who made his name with Creed offshoot Alter Bridge and now approximating previous collaborators Axl Rose and Scott Weiland alongside Slash, is technically a fine singer, but he lacks the charisma of a star front man. Slash, meanwhile, showed his chops are still there, but he doesn't have the star power to carry an arena headliner alone. Ultimately the band's nearly hour-long set, highlighted by Guns N' Roses classics "Night Train," "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City," only made you wish Axl and Slash would finally bury the hatchet and get the original GNR lineup back together, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

Set lists:

Aerosmith:

Back in the Saddle
Eat the Rich
Love in an Elevator
Cryin'
Livin' on the Edge
Monkey on My Back
Kings and Queens
Toys in the Attic
Rag Doll
Freedom Fighter
Big Ten Inch Record
Lord of the Thighs
I Don't Want to Miss a Thing
No More No More
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
Walk This Way
_____

Dream On
Sweet Emotion

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators:

You're a Lie
Night Train
Standing in the Sun
Back from Cali
You Could Be Mine
World on Fire
Anastasia
By the Sword
Sweet Child O' Mine
Slither
Paradise City

Courtesy of Steve Appleford