By Gary Graff
(DETROIT) -- At least we know the bad boys of Aerosmith keep abreast of current events. "This one's dedicated to Clinton," guitarist Joe Perry announced as he lectured the beleaguered president with a rendition of the appropriately titled Fleetwood Mac blues chestnut "Stop Messin' Around" during the first of the Boston group's two sold-out shows at the Pine Knob Music Theatre outside Detroit.
Commenting on a "Joe Perry for President" sign held up by one fan, the axeman cracked that "at least I like cigars, too," a reference to one of the juicier details in the Ken Starr report on Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Staying relevant is a hallmark of Aerosmith's history, of course. Each time you count 'em out, the quintet seems to storm back with some new hit or multimillion-selling album or even, of all things, a best-selling book to remind us that it's still a force on the American musical landscape, stirring Rolling Stones swagger, Led Zeppelin crunch, blues roots and pop smarts -- not to mention deft showmanship -- into a stew that never seems to sate older fans and always lures a new generation to the table.
These days Aerosmith have their wings again thanks to "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," the MTV Video Music Award-winning smash from the Armageddon soundtrack (for which the group filmed a BBC Top of the Pops video at Pine Knob). And with a new cadre of teenybop fans present, Aerosmith offered up a history lesson, a slam-bam two-hour, twenty-song show laden with hits from the group's twenty five-plus years of recording.
Following a fiery opening set by Monster Magnet -- whose fast-talking frontman, Dave Wyndorf, has clearly seen the frenetic Steven Tyler perform a few times -- Aerosmith emerged from behind a wall of curtains, cranking out the title track from Nine Lives. The rest of the show mixed newer material ("Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)," "Taste of India," "Living on the Edge") with a batch of vintage Seventies hallmarks ("Same Old Song and Dance," "Dream On," a slamming "Back in the Saddle," "Walk This Way" and the show-closing "Sweet Emotion," which segued into a bit of Zep's "Heartbreaker.")
With pyrotechnics more suited to the Fourth of July than the recent Labor Day holiday, Aerosmith concentrated on their rock ouevre and eschewed many of the ballad hits -- and even those that Aerosmith did play, "Cryin'" and "What It Takes," were delivered with a molten sheen. After injuries to Tyler (knee) and drummer Joey Kramer (burns in a freak car accident) that forced the postponement of more than five months' worth of dates, the group was clearly releasing energy pent-up from an unexpected summer vacation; the performances were long, loud and, in spots, even ragged enough to let you know the show wasn't by-the-numbers -- even as Tyler unapologetically mugged for the venue's video screens and worked the stage in a manner that indicated he knew exactly where to be at each moment for maximum visual effect.
But that's part of the Aerosmith way, too. And if the group can deliver a concert that entertains but still feels like a five-alarm fire, what can there be to complain about?