By The Beatnik
I first saw Aerosmith on May 13, 1999 at Arco Arena (now called the Sleep Train Arena…I think) in Sacramento, California. The show took place right around what I thought was the peak of my admiration for the five piece band from Boston.
As an 8th grader, I bought the 1997 album Nine Lives and immediately fell in love with the guitar-driven wildness, which led to me throwing all of my lawn-mowing dough at the band’s back catalog. I remember my dad asking why I kept buying albums from the same band and suggesting I branch out a bit. Nope. I remained focused.
Anyway, by the spring of my freshman year of high school, I had just about every Aerosmith album and was well versed with the guitar licks that saturated Toys in the Attic, Rocks and Draw the Line; I knew all the lyrics to the radio-friendly anthems featured on Permanent Vacation, Pump and Get A Grip.
I still remember the smell, the volume, the crowd, the setlist…everything from that 1999 experience. I remember Steven Tyler pacing around the stage with what seemed like a 12-foot harpoon — but in fact it was just his decorated microphone stand that gave him the power to be the “Demon of Screamin’.” I remember Joe Perry’s eyes never leaving his left hand as it danced all over the fretboards of his endless supply of guitars. I remember him nonchalantly ripping though solos I will never in a million years be able to replicate.
I remember that concert, though, as a 14-year-old kid salivating over rock stars I idolized. Yes, the music had me screaming back the words to every song and hopping up and down, but my Aerosmith appreciation was fueled more by how badass the Toxic Twins were and less about Aerosmith the band.
Fast-forward to 2014. I guess you could say I have “graduated” onto being a bit of a punk rock curmudgeon, disliking the rock star motif for the most part. Nearing 30 now, my music collection leans heavily on punk, surf, soul and blues. However, Aerosmith still rents several units in my record complex.
Many folks write off Aerosmith nowadays as trash, and you can’t really blame them. Not only has the music been sub par since the band members got sober in the early 80s, but Steven Tyler was a judge on American Idol. How he avoided prison time for that is a mystery. But it’s hard to step back for a second and realize Aerosmith has been making bad music for much longer than they were making brilliant music. Between 1973 and 1979, that collection of music is matchless — a notion I hadn’t come to appreciate until well after the ’99 concert. As my tastes took me to noise from bands like The New York Dolls, The Stooges, Radio Birdman and The Real Kids, I began to appreciate early Aerosmith even more. What they were doing in the 70s would be widely adored by beatniks like me had the band stopped making music at the end of the decade.
So with this mentality, I jumped for joy earlier this year when I learned the band would be playing the Gorge Amphitheatre. I knew that I could stomach “Jaded” or “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” if it meant I got “Lick and a Promise” or “Critical Mass.”
Well, the boys did not disappoint…hence the title of this long-winded rant.
With a lot of uncertainty in the air regarding the health of Joey Kramer, people were anxious about what kind of shape the band’s sound would be in. At about nine o’clock on Saturday night, the lights went black — and for about 60 seconds, there was nothing but a growing rumble. Then, out of nowhere the lights flashed back on and Tyler came marching down the catwalk. Before I could even make out the rest of the band, they tore into “Love in an Elevator.” It was hard to take my eyes off Tyler who looked about 20 years younger than his actual age, but far behind him was a face I didn’t recognize behind the drum kit. “Ah, a fill-in,” I thought. “Joey must really be hurtin’.”
When “Elevator” ended, Get A Grip’s opening track “Eat the Rich” started up, but something seemed off. It was clear the drummer wasn’t on the same page as the rest of the band. His stops and fills seemed a bar too late or too early. I noticed Perry standing in front of the set, and it looked as if he was coaching the drummer.
The minor drumming hick-ups became meaningless when they launched into “S.O.S. (Too Bad),” one of my favorites of Get Your Wings. Two more modern singles followed — and it was around that time that Tyler announced the fill-in drummer’s name: Jesse Kramer. It was Joey’s son playing drums.
From that point on, each song sounded better and better and the mistakes began to evaporate. You could see how comfortable the younger Kramer had gotten with the announcement from Tyler.
“Toys in the Attic” scorched with a vintage “Tyler and Perry mic-sharing moment” as they screamed the chorus. “Lord of the Thighs” was clearly the band favorite as every member was visibly enthusiastic about playing it. Yes, I had to put up with the stupid Armageddon ballad, but I got an unbelievable rendition of “No More No More” in return. I definitely came out on top in that trade.
Aerosmith had the massive crowd in the palm of its hand for the rest of the show. And when it came time for the members to take their bows, Jesse Kramer received a roar I’ve never heard before. His nervousness washed away and he couldn’t help but unleash an endless smile when the cheering refused to die down. When Perry was handed the mic to introduce Tyler, he put the attention back on Kramer by pointing to the youngest dude on stage saying, “This guy saved the f***** day. He saved the f****** day!” What I thought was the loudest roar I’d ever heard just seconds prior was topped.
It was a magical night, one that I’ll remember as well as the first live encounter I had with Aerosmith (even with far more brain cells killed). Fifteen years later, I can say my shameless love for Aerosmith lives on.