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Review: Aerosmith spreads itself thin in Dallas

Posted 1:03am on Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012

Judging from the stage alone, Steven Tyler is Aerosmith.

After all, the 64-year-old frontman more than lived up to that title, spending much of Saturday night's sold-out stop on the "Global Warming" tour at American Airlines Center a good 10 feet in front of his bandmates, at the far end of a runway that stretched deep into the floor seats. Preening, thrusting his hips, deploying that raspy yowl and dependent upon several TelePrompTers tucked in various, discreet corners of the stage, Tyler would occasionally meander back towards the rest of Aerosmith, but was content to only occasionally cede the spotlight.

It's an interesting time for Aerosmith, entering its 42nd year in the music biz. Although the Boston-bred group was never "dangerous," at least not in the Sex Pistols or Metallica sense, Tyler and his cohorts certainly cultivated an air of intensity, thick with sexual tension and the ragged undercurrent of narcotics. But now, it's all an act.

Tyler has been effectively defanged by his recently ended two-year stint as an American Idol judge, where America came to know him less as a flashy rock god, and more as a doddering, leering, wacky uncle, prone to utter gibberish and non sequiturs (thankfully, he did gift the Internet with one more meme before he took his leave).

That goofiness undercuts whatever edge the band might want to project in concert (see also: Joe Perry's selection of hot sauces, Joey Kramer's line of custom-roasted coffees, etc.), but judging from the sold-out crowd's ecstatic greeting Saturday night, perhaps no one truly cares. Inside an arena, perhaps nothing else matters but the men and the music. Which brings us back to that initial observation: Tyler really does equal Aerosmith, it would seem, for most in attendance, and no amount of extracurricular shenanigans can dissipate fans' enthusiasm for hearing 20-year-old hits.

Indeed, it appeared all anyone wanted, over the course of the 105-minute set, was to hear their favorites (and, in true "classic" rock show fashion, whole sections would sit down during the new and/or deep cuts, only to stand again for the singles). The quintet was augmented by a trio of back-up singers, who also contributed piano and saxophone -- and, frequently, doubled Tyler's vocals, providing the illusion of elastic range that, as the show wore on, was clear Tyler didn't quite have (Whatever It Takes, for example, was a shredded mess).

The evening was bloated -- not sure if both a drum solo and a Perry take on Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme was necessary -- which was the direct result of Aerosmith trying to be all things to all people. The band has existed long enough to amass fans of different generations, and with Tyler's time on Idol, people who might be coming to an Aerosmith show for the first time (Saturday marked the band's first gig here in two years).

So rather than air out new material (the band is touring ahead of Music From Another Dimension!, the band's first album in eight years; they played exactly one new two new tunes, Oh Yeah and Legendary Child), Aerosmith cherry-picked a handful of cuts from its back catalog, inserted a harmonica solo here, and a bit of spastic jabber from Tyler there, and called it good. Tyler took frequent time-outs, disappearing just offstage, and creating a weird, start-stop momentum by abruptly turning things over to his collaborators.

As performances from veteran rock bands go (and Dallas has seen plenty of 'em this summer), Aerosmith's wasn't the worst by any stretch. Instead, it just felt workmanlike, devoid of any real surprises, apart from the fact that Tyler doesn't know the words to the Beatles standard Come Together. One man, even with Tyler's hammy charisma, isn't enough to sustain interest. However far ahead he wants to place himself, Tyler still needs the men behind him to appear engaged, and not just drifting across vast expanses of space, punching out chords and collecting a paycheck.

Reportedly, the new album returns Aerosmith to the glory days of the late '70s, when the Boston band was a rag-tag bunch of guys hungry to make it. Even a hint of that spark, a need to be something other than adored and paid many millions, would make Aerosmith vastly more entertaining than it is now.

By contrast, Cheap Trick's hour-long opening set was surprisingly vibrant, thanks in part to Robin Zander's eye-popping outfit (with enough spangles to make David Lee Roth seethe with jealousy). As expected, the crowd didn't become truly invested until the closing run, which fired off one power-pop gem after another: Surrender, Dream Police, I Want You to Want Me. Cheap Trick -- Dax Nielsen and Tom Peterson joined Rick Nielsen and Zander onstage -- likewise traveled a nostalgic path, yet made it seem as though they were discovering the songs anew, and attacked them with an energy belying their decades of experience.

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