PHILADELPHIA — Fans have been fleeced by faux farewell tours so many times that cynicism is warranted.
But this feels like a grand goodbye for Aerosmith – as least as far as touring, as the caveat goes – and the band is marinating in every serrated guitar riff, every scarf adorning a mic stand, every piercing laser and light.
The Peace Out tour commenced Saturday at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, the first of 40 dates for Aerosmith that will run through January, with a shiny production that felt intimate in an arena, but big enough that it could have filled a stadium.
The quartet of irrepressible frontman Steven Tyler, virtuoso guitarist Joe Perry, steadfast bassist Tom Hamilton and guitarist Brad Whitford, the main texture man – rose together on a platform at the rear of the open-backed stage, awash in a purple haze to open the nearly two-hour show with, appropriately, “Back in the Saddle.”
A celebration of 50 years of Aerosmith
It took the leonine Tyler, clad in a long silver coat and floppy black hat and looking like your coolest older aunt, about three seconds to sideways-gallop down a ramp to the tip of the stage, which is designed in the shape of a Flying-V guitar.
Perry, a slouchy rock cowboy in his own black hat and billowing white shirt, joined his partner in musical brotherhood moments later for “Love in an Elevator,” an early indication that the show would swing between album cuts for diehard fans and familiar anthems for those who discovered Aerosmith during their MTV dominance.
The tour is, after all, billed as a celebration of Aerosmith’s 50 years of music, from the grimy blues rock and druggy riffs of the ‘70s to the polished sheen of their mainstream-commanding ‘80s output.
‘A very lucky man’:Sting shares an appreciation of My Songs on current tour
Throughout their spirited set, the band – joined by Seth Stachowski on saxophone, Suzie McNeil on background vocals, Buck Johnson on keyboards and background vocals and John Douglas, filling in on drums this tour for Joey Kramer – sounded taut and aggressive.
Tyler’s holy howl remains remarkably flexible, which he verified on the gravelly choruses of “Cryin’” and the prescient “Livin’ on the Edge,” and the band’s musicianship is in peak form for this victory lap.
A few opening night snafus were moderately noticeable: A missed drum cue for the funky “Rag Doll,” a wayward harmonica during “Hangman Jury” and a visibly frustrated Tyler signaling about sound issues among them.
But rock ‘n’ roll is never supposed to be perfect.
The unspoken sentiments between Steven Tyler and Joe Perry
Aerosmith has also never made a secret of their use of teleprompters and indeed, several were nestled around the stage floor as well as one large screen perched above the sound board.
A lyrical safety net was warranted when the band rolled into “Adam’s Apple,” an album cut from “Toys in the Attic” that they’ve only played live a couple dozen times since the album’s 1975 release.
While little mention was made of the finality of Aerosmith’s touring career, the scope of the songs selected for the set list provided the unspoken sentiments.
Tyler, 75, and Perry, 72 – always and forever The Toxic Twins – sat on a couple of stools at the foot of the stage for a blues tour that included the swampy “Hangman Jury,” filled with slide guitar and harmonica, and the beautifully eerie “Seasons of Wither.”
Their intuitive communication, not to mention the nearly identical white streaks in their respective manes, was palpable with only an elbow nudge or a raised eyebrow needed, an understanding between those with shared molecules.
Joe Perry pays tribute to Jeff Beck
Perry told the sold-out crowd that the white Fender Stratocaster he was playing was from Jeff Beck’s collection, a gift from the late guitarist’s wife. He uncorked blistering blues on “Movin’ Out,” a deep cut from Aerosmith’s self-titled 1973 debut and the first song written by Perry and Tyler in their fledgling partnership.
Five decades later, they and the rest of the band are still pumping out the purring bass line of “Sweet Emotion,” tearing through the sonic blitzkrieg of “Toys in the Attic” and ruminating on aging in the eternally beautiful “Dream On” (yes, Tyler can still climb those notes).
The show closing “Walk This Way” – its zippy guitar riff one of the most iconic in rock history – concluded the night with loose joyfulness. But it might be more apropos to honor Aerosmith’s history with their own words from “Dream On”: “Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear.”
The Black Crowes open for Aerosmith
Opening throughout the Peace Out tour is The Black Crowes, fellow blues rockers with a rangy lead singer (Chris Robinson) and searing guitarist (Rich Robinson). Their six-piece band and two backup singers coaxed fans to their seats early with a solid offering that included “Twice As Hard” – with the Robinson brothers on harmonica and slide guitar – their grinding cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” and the blues-boogying “Remedy.”
Though the band sounded robust and record-perfect, Chris Robinson’s vocals were muddied by a poor mix, making the acoustic-based ballad “She Talks to Angels” the only clearly discerned vocal of The Crowes’ hourlong set.
But Aerosmith and The Black Crowes is a well-matched bill, a back-to-back serving of meaty, substantial rock.