Damn the Wheelchairs: Aerosmith Still In Fine Form

By Spyder Darling

"The shit ain't over yet!" said Steven Tyler, Aerosmith's ageless, acrobatic and charismatic frontman during the band's recent one night stand at the cavernous Continental Arena in New Jersey. And he couldn't have been more correct. Though the "shit" he was referring to was the number of songs left in the evening's itinerary, Tyler could easily have been bragging about his group's endless career and the many miles remaining on Aero-force One's only slightly sagging wings.

Ronald Reagan was still serving his first term as President the last time I saw Aerosmith in concert. It was the summer of '84 and thanks to a 12 pack of Molson, consumed beneath a scorching July sun, I remember absolutely nothing of the show. I understand it was part of the Aerosmith's Back in the Saddle Tour and marked the regrouping of the original lineup after five years in solo project hell. Nevertheless, Kris Teen, my headbanging buddy, who fortunately drove that day, assured me what a cool time it was.

So, with these bleary memories in mind, the always jubilant Jet Set Jenna (who was all of nine months old when Aerosmith first appeared in 1970) and I car serviced our way to the "Arena Formerly Known as the Meadowlands" for a Mid Winter's Night of ass-kicking rock'n'roll. Now with the chance to witness first hand if Aerosmith's music can still do the talking, I was pumped and not just with the requisite pre-show Budweiser & shot of Jack Daniels (to fight off the winter cold, of course).

The number of groups that can claim Aerosimith's three decades and counting of civic-center sized headlining status can be arguably counted on the fingers it takes to make the ever rebellious devil's sign of rock'n'roll. The Rolling Stones, of course, are the ultimate Dorian Grays of pop music. Ozzy still packs them in, but needs to pad his shows with a contingent of thrash/death/grindcore support acts. Kiss has returned, but only after a 15-year hiatus and a make-up brushstroke of marketing genius that got them to put their greasepaint and breastplates back on.

Needless to say, Aerosmith are something of a miracle in the entertainment industry. Who knows how old Steven, Joe Perry (guitars) Brad Whitford (guitars) Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums) really are. Their Web site conveniently lists only month and date, not year in their bios. But, damn the wheelchairs, full speed ahead, here they come again.

This time the boys rode into town to promote A Little South of Sanity, their new double-length live CD, 21st release and fourth live album overall. Their first on-stage document Live Bootleg still stands as one of the best live albums ever, right up there with the Rolling Stones' Get Your Ya Yas Out and the Who's Live at Leeds. Surprisingly, what I have heard of Aerosmith's new effort comes dangerously close to measuring up to its older brother's gloriously sloppy, ferociously stoned out standards. True, the new tempos are a notch slower, but the playing and singing on the latest edition is as loose lipped, hard hittin' from the hip as ever.

And as much as it may pain purists who frown on how Aerosmith haven't recorded a decent album since Rocks came out in 1974, the band still delivers the goods as gritty and graciously as ever. The boys have enough moves, grooves and attitude to unite two generations of Aero-heads be they dude, lady, dirtbag or debutante. At the show, the fans were all standing, cheering and eating up each tune like free McNuggets at a bowling league Christmas banquet.

One ever so slightly disturbing observation of the evening's otherwise roaring and soaring proceedings was the fact that despite a groundbreaking collaboration with Run DMC, a James Brown cover tune and audible influences from the Chicago and Delta schools of blues, Aerosmith's fanbase is still whiter than a case of Ivory Snow. After spending so many years in the multi-racial smelting pot that is New York City, whenever I get surrounded by too many white folks, I tend to get a bit nervous. The fact that many were wearing tour shirts designed like hockey jerseys was also kinda scary if you think about it too much.

Thankfully, deep thoughts have never been what Aerosmith are all about. What matters is that Joe and Brad's guitars still cut through the mix with vibrant intensity and, more importantly, Steven Tyler is in super fine, non-toxic form these days. Tyler's (and the band's) epic battles with booze, pills'n powders have already filled several books, so there's no need to rehash them here. Suffice it to say, whatever the band's on these days buttermilk, Geritol, et al it's clearly helping them to remain one of the hottest acts around.

Mercifully, for those interested in something with a bit more of a kick to it, beer was readily available at the Arena for five bucks a pop (plastic cups, I hear, are very expensive these days). Tragically, taps closed as soon as Aerosmith came on, but for those shrewd enough to have a few tucked under their folding seats, the buffet of ballads ("Crying," "Janie's Got a Gun" and the truly awful "Don't Want to Miss a Thing") was almost bearable. For those without proper anesthesia, a trip to the pretzel stand may have provided some consolation.

Warm beer served in pricey plastic cups, notwithstanding, what, you may wonder, is the real reason for attending these arena-sized events. My guess is that, if nothing else, it's to hook up with about 20,000 friends some you know, others you've just met on the line for the men's room and rock out like you used to, or how your brothers and sisters did when they were kids. "In 2010," Tyler promised that with the crowd's permission, the band would return "to kick your ass again." So, if you can manage to score some tickets and get permission from the head Nurse to leave for the day, I highly recommend seeing Aerosmith while they're still alive and kicking white folks' butts everywhere.