We can agree that Steven Tyler was a pleasantly sweet – if mostly ineffective – judge on “American Idol” the past two years.
But we also know where he really belongs, and it isn’t on a TV talent show.
No, Tyler is a rip-roaring, butt-shaking, sexy-skanky, wake-the-dead-yowling, rock star supreme.
And what a pleasure to have him back on stage.
At Aerosmith’s packed Philips Arena concert on Thursday – the band’s first show here since a 2009 gig at Lakewood Amphitheatre – the quintet displayed its limberness, both musically and physically, with a set that proved that they simply don’t make rock stars the way they used to.
Taking the stage to “Draw the Line,” with Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry arriving at the end of a catwalk while drummer Joey Kramer, bassist Tom Hamilton and guitarist Brad Whitford held down the groove behind them, Aerosmith began their two-hour sonic assault.
Though Tyler initially resembled Aunt Ethyl at Easter with his big, floppy hat, he and Perry still looked rock star cool in their sparkly coats and scarves, which eventually were stripped away to uncover lean, tattooed arms.
Anyone who has ever experienced an Aerosmith show knows, for the most part, what to expect.
Tyler can be counted on to jokingly pull the camera man’s lens from his face to his crotch, as he did during “Jaded,” and skitter around the stage with his scarf-adorned mic stand, as he did with nearly every song.
Perry will almost certainly rip out a solo or two to leave you slack-jawed, as he produced during the lengthy jam that ended “Rats in the Cellar.”
And Kramer, Hamilton and Whitford will be given their turns in the spotlight, which they received several times during the night, solidifying the fact that no matter what happens behind the scenes with these guys, they know how to pull the brotherhood together for the sake of fans.
Over the years, Tyler’s voice has soared and skidded, depending on the length of the tour and his extracurricular activities.
At Thursday’s show, he sounded perfectly Tyler. He nailed the screeches on “Livin’ on the Edge” and sang the first verse of “What it Takes” a capella, demonstrating to the younger recruits in the crowd what a real singer – free of processing and full of charisma – sounds like.
At 64, Tyler is also a defiant performer, spinning around on one foot, bopping over to sling an arm around Perry, gleefully smacking fans’ hands and always looking like an eager puppy who needed someone to play with him.
Though Aerosmith paid plenty of attention to its deep catalog (it sounded as if Tyler made mention of playing the Electric Ballroom before tearing into 1974’s “SOS (Too Bad)”but his chatter was often difficult to decipher), the quintet – backed by two female singers, a keyboardist and occasional percussionist – gave fans a sample of the new “Music from Another Dimension!,” coming in November.
Perry churned out some chunky guitar on “Oh Yeah,” a song better than its simple title that combines Aerosmith’s polished rock with elements of ‘60s pop. The first single from the album, “Legendary Child,” is a formulaic rocker that shares a cadence with “Walk This Way,” but it’s still enjoyable radio fodder.
Hamilton strode the catwalk to usher in “Sweet Emotion” with his nuanced bass lines, but a few seconds later, Mr. Adrenaline swiped the spotlight back, bouncing up and down as if he hasn’t sung that song 76 million time in his career.
The band segued seamlessly into a loose, playful version of “Walk This Way,” which featured Tyler’s slide-march move with his mic stand and Perry ripping out notes while playing behind his head.
Though it would have been cool to see more lighters rather than cell phones aloft as the crowd waited for Aerosmith to return for an encore, it hardly mattered by the time Tyler rose from the back of the catwalk to play “Dream On” on a white piano, while Perry strode atop it.
In tours past, fans held their breath when it came time for Tyler’s huge notes as the song climaxed, wondering if he could still hit those ridiculous highs. No surprise that on Thursday, the escalating “Dream on”’s sounded as gut-wrenching as they did in 1973.
Speaking of vocals, Robin Zander of openers Cheap Trick was also having a terrific night.
The classic rock vets charmed the Philips crowd with an hour-long set designed for maximum volume and often focused on a deeper layer of the band’s career.
While there were plenty of hits from the Illinois power-pop-rock quartet – Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Daxx Nielsen (Rick’s son, filling in live for Bun E. Carlos who suffers from back issues) – the guys often landed on serrated album cuts such as “Baby Loves to Rock,” “Need Your Love” and the driving “Sick Man of Europe,” from the band’s last studio album, 2009’s “The Latest.”
Aerosmith’s Whitford popped out to jam with Nielsen on “Ain’t That a Shame” – which also produced a nifty drum intro from Daxx Nielsen – and later, Petersson generated an impressive solo on the 12-string bass he designed.
Zander, wearing his “Dream Police”-era dress whites and hat, sounded strong all set, his distinctively nasal rasp tackling the still-glorious chorus of “Surrender” and his upper range flawless during “The Flame.”
Though the band has mixed hits “She’s Tight” and “Tonight It’s You” into other sets during this tour, on Thursday, fans had to be satisfied with shouting along to the iconic opening of “I Want You to Want Me” and enjoying the tense paranoia that still races through “Dream Police.”
As Nielsen crowed during the show, “Cheap Trick…accept no substitutes!” As if we could ever.