MUSIC REVIEW - By request, Aerosmith goes out with the old

By Steve Morse, Globe Staff

Is there any doubt that Aerosmith takes these New Year's Eve shows seriously? This time the Boston Bad Boys, climaxing a highly successful year, spent lavishly to make this the most memorable New Year's Eve homecoming yet. The band doled out $100,000 in added production costs, said bassist Tom Hamilton, for special effects that included extra pyrotechnics and what he called ''exploding planets,'' giant balloons hung from the ceiling and painted to look like Earth, Saturn, Jupiter, and their sister planets in the solar system.

Precisely at midnight, the planets exploded one by one, while thousands of smaller, silver balloons rained down from the rafters. The sold-out, 18,000-plus crowd was ecstatic at the sight, then grew more ecstatic when Aerosmith tore into the knife-edged ''Mama Kin,'' the song for which their Lansdowne Street club is named.

Aerosmith probably won't do next year's millennial New Year's Eve because the band won't be on the road, but Thursday's dramatic soiree will carry their fans for a long time.

Moreover, the band made up for lost time (the group canceled two Great Woods shows this summer because singer Steven Tyler tore a knee ligament banging into a microphone stand) by performing a thrilling, over-the-top show that didn't end until 1 in the morning.

Tyler wore a knee brace on Thursday (tucked under his trousers so you couldn't see it), but still scampered around rear and side-stage ramps like a madman. He sang and screamed with authority, while high-fiving the crowd and reminding everyone that the Boston area is his home.

Before the show, Aerosmith celebrated Hamilton's 47th birthday with a surprise party backstage. And the surprises continued right into the show, as Aerosmith made a wild entrance by parading through the crowd in firefighter suits and letting off fire extinguishers on stage. It was a nervy reminder of the fire this summer that engulfed drummer Joey Kramer's Ferrari at a Scituate gas station. Kramer suffered second-degree burns, but has obviously come back with renewed vigor, judging from his powerhouse drum work.

With dispensation from the FleetCenter's normal 11 p.m. curfew, Aerosmith didn't go on until 10:50. The crowd, ranging from '70s veterans to young teens drawn by the band's recent splash on the ''Armageddon'' soundtrack, was in a fever pitch by that time. And the group fed that pitch by coming out rocking with the old, head-banging favorite, ''Toys in the Attic.''

The energy level continued upward with ''Love in an Elevator'' (with guitarist Joe Perry soloing hard in his dashing, leopard-spotted jacket), ''Eat the Rich'' (with Tyler's off-color language rippling through the arena), and the smoldering funk of ''Rag Doll,'' with Perry switching to slide guitar.

The pyrotechnical effects came into play on ''Dream On'' as a fiery waterfall poured from the rear of the stage (but evaporated safely upon impact). The group followed with its antiviolence anthem, ''Janie's Got a Gun,'' and a crunching ''What Kind of Love Are You On'' from the ''Armageddon'' disc.

At this point, Tyler asked the crowd if it wanted ''old school'' or ''new school'' Aerosmith tunes. The overwhelming shout was for old school, so Tyler and mates complied with a blistering ''Same Old Song and Dance,'' and an incendiary ''Draw the Line,'' which led up to the midnight explosions and the sight of Aerosmith wives and family members hugging each other on stage as the crowd roared even more.

The last hour had some more old-school highs, including Perry's lead vocal and wailing guitar on blues standard ''Stop Messing Around'' (with Tyler adding potent harmonica licks and Brad Whitford blasting along on rhythm guitar), the riff-happy ''Walk this Way,'' and encores of ''Back in the Saddle'' and ''Sweet Emotion.'' A sweaty job well done by the Bad Boys.

Opening acts were the likable surf band the Ray Corvair Trio (peaking with a fast-paced version of Led Zeppelin's ''Kashmir'') and Candlebox, journeymen hard-rockers whose set was hit and miss.