Monday, August 23, 2010

Terrible acoustics deplete Aerosmith show of much sweet emotion; performance itself a bit impassive

Concert Review

with Buckcherry
First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, IL
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Last night I went to a concert by a legendary hard rock band and heard music at a considerably lower volume than I did on my drive home.

Thus, while I would like here to encapsulate Aerosmith's performance, the truth is my enjoyment of it was audibly diminished by the atrocious sound system employed by the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre to reach us peasants on the lawn. The concert itself--coming amidst some recent band turmoil--wasn't perfect, but I know I would've liked it a whole lot better had I been in the pavilion or a good bit closer than halfway up the hill that constitutes the "lawn section."

Funny thing is, I feel as if I almost have no right to complain as due to a promotion by promoter Live Nation prompted by slow ticket sales, I was able to get in for only $10 including parking. As such, the outing with two good friends was still technically "worth it," but Live Nation--which also owns the venue--should be thoroughly ashamed of such completely crappy acoustics.

Chicago Tribune photo by Simon Brubaker
I've always hated the utilitarian Tinley Park "shed"--by far the worst concert venue in the Chicagoland area--but I don't recall ever experiencing a concert so utterly impaired by such a lousy sound system. Just because I didn't pony up for pavilion seats or get to the show early enough to sit closer on the lawn--where every 10 feet forward seemingly improved the volume by about 10%, per a trek to the restroom and late-show descent--doesn't mean I deserved to hear Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and all 5 original Aerosmithians at levels that allowed me to comfortably converse above the music without raising my voice. (I know my hearing is likely a bit depleted after years of concertgoing, but my comrades concurred that the sound was horrendous.)

After all, it's not like I was seeing a concert in a parking garage or even at a stadium not solely designed for musical performances. The only reason this oft-renamed venue exists is to host summertime concerts, so it's stupefying that its acoustics suck so bad.

Now as for Aerosmith, who may have been somewhat complicit in the sound problems by not properly soundchecking to the back of the lawn,  they were--not too surprisingly--something of a mixed bag.

I have been a fan for almost exactly 32 years, tied to the late-summer 1978 release of the not-so-great movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which my favorite musical moment was when Aerosmith sang "Come Together."  Not long thereafter, I got their 1978 double live album titled Live Bootleg and have loved it to this day

By the end of the '70s, Aerosmith splintered, with guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford leaving the band. Although the original unit reformed on solid trio of mid-to-late '80s albums, I didn't care much for their outside-songwriter-assisted '90s schmaltz like Crazy, Cryin' and Amazing, three separate yet roughly the same songs whose only redeeming quality were videos that introduced Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone to the world.

So going into last night's show, I already knew the setlist would be just as full of material from 1990 forward as the raunchily rocking relics that are what I really love about Aerosmith (along with their first hit, Dream On). But especially for just $10, I was fine with that. Although along with Same Old Song & Dance, Last Child, Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way, I would've loved to also hear Toys In The Attic and Back In The Saddle.

Again, the dreadful acoustics made everything less exciting, but even at 62, Tyler's voice sounded sharp and the classics were fun to hear (the Tribune has a pretty positive review). Yet even if I were in the pavilion, I don't think I would be quite raving about the performance, and not because the setlist wasn't the one I would've put together.

Chicago Sun-Times photo
Maybe it's because after 40 years on the road, the boys have gotten weary, of each other if not in general; maybe it's because after falling off a stage and abruptly ending last year's Aerosmith tour, Tyler threatened to go solo and Perry--who my friend Paolo brilliantly pegged as sporting a Cruella de Vil look--started auditioning new singers, forcing Tyler to have him served with a cease-and-desist order; maybe it's because Tyler's recently revealed new role as an American Idol judge could interfere with the band's future plans; or maybe it's because just last Tuesday, Perry bumped Tyler off a stage in Toronto. But for whatever reason, Aerosmith didn't seem all that "into" last night's show, and clearly not into each other.

The five bandmates all looked to be doing their thing in their own space, and even when Tyler--still a fun-to-watch rock 'n' roll original--tried to engage Perry in some interplay, Cruella, er, I mean Joe, didn't appear to want any part of it. Also dulling things down a bit, besides the latter day ballads, were drum and guitar solos, the latter with Perry cheesily accompanied by his Guitar Hero avatar.

Band members don't have to love each other to make great music; sometimes tension even helps and these guys have probably intermittently loathed each other since 1970, when Aerosmith formed in Boston and bonded over Three Stooges episodes. When my friends and I were able to move about 30 feet down the hill to hear Dream On and Walk This Way as encores to the generous 2-hour-plus main set, we could hear the music significantly better and it sounded damn good.

All in all, I'm glad I went, especially as I'd only seen Aerosmith once before (and that wasn't until 2004 and required a drive up to Green Bay and getting hassled throughout the show by drunk Wisconsinites). For $10, I clearly got my money's worth and next time--will there be one for this band?--I would gladly pay $20 if it means Live Nation will upgrade the venue's 99-cent soundsystem.

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