For a moment, it was odd to see Steven Tyler on a stage surrounded not by Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton, but a stable of other musicians, some of them playing fiddle and banjo.
The weirdness was extinguished midway through the first verse of the opening song, Aerosmith’s slinky 1975 classic, “Sweet Emotion.”
Yeah, there were some “country” instruments on stage – obviously, since Tyler yearned to cut a Nashville-ized solo record and succeeded – but it was made very clear very fast that this wasn’t going to be a round robin at The Bluebird Café kind of night.
In ripped jeans and a black vest, a cluster of trademark scarves wrapped around his mic stand and a forelock of hair hanging in his weathered face, Tyler looked like the veteran rock god that he is – and spent 100 minutes at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre carrying fans through a musical diary of his life.
Backed by Loving Mary, the seven-piece country-rock band from Nashville that includes longtime Aerosmith comrade Marti Frederiksen (Ozzy Osbourne and Carrie Underwood are also on his production resume) on vocals and guitar and singer/bassist Rebecca Lynn Howard (“Simple Things,” “Forgive”), Tyler rolled though Aerosmith favorites “Cryin’” (which didn’t sound much different with its dusting of fiddle) and “Jaded.”
In between were detours through songs that inspired his musical journey – a take on The Beatles’ “I’m Down,” a segue into a psychedelic “Come Together,” a sexy and playful romp through Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and a sinewy rendition of ‘60s-era Fleetwood Mac’s grimy, bluesy “Rattlesnake Shake.”
Throughout the show, Tyler, 68, frequently reached toward the crowd to slap hands with fans, seemingly enjoying the close proximity. He humorously chastised a guy who apparently was leaving Tyler’s set to travel downtown to catch the OTHER rock show Thursday night, AC/DC at Philips Arena. Tyler was having none of it.
“Sit the f*** back down,” he said, barely concealing a smile.
As enjoyable as this top-talent cover band segment was, Tyler has a record to promote, so he offered a handful of tracks from his pleasant solo release, “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.”
“Love is Your Name” soared under the honeyed harmonies of Frederiksen and Howard – and Tyler couldn’t resist the arena move of holding the mic stand over the crowd’s head – while “I Make My Own Sunshine” was so generically cheerful, expect to hear it in an iced tea commercial sometime soon.
We often associate Tyler with his rock yowlers – “Walk This Way,” “Love in an Elevator,” “Sweet Emotion” – but he’s always been equally effective as a balladeer, mostly because of his masterful touch with phrasing.
He demonstrated that skill on the sumptuous “It Ain’t Easy” and autobiographical “My Own Worst Enemy,” and then sent a visceral shockwave through the crowd when he slid behind a baby grand piano to unleash “Dream On” with the haunted shrieks of a guy who fully comprehends its meaning.
A fun percussion segment ushered in a vibrant “Walk This Way” (drummer Sarah Tomek crushed it behind the kit all night), but Tyler turned pensive at the start of the encore with his reworked version of “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Mournful fiddle and a decelerated tempo dusted the song with an eerie coating, a vibe enhanced by the soft blinking lights above the stage.
As the short “Out on a Limb” tour heads into its last round of dates, Tyler is undoubtedly having a blast. Who knows what the future holds for Aerosmith, but for this snapshot in time, experiencing a rock icon in an intimate venue was emotional and sweet, indeed.