Saturday, June 23, 2012

Joys in the Static: Aerosmith and Cheap Trick Deliver Classic Arena Rock Enjoyment -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

with Cheap Trick
United Center, Chicago
June 22, 2012
(overall rating, but also for each band)

Unlike presumably some of those who robustly filled the United Center on Friday night, I can honestly say that Steven Tyler being on American Idol had absolutely no bearing on my attendance.

For I have been a fan of both Aerosmith and Cheap Trick since the age of 10, if not a trifle earlier. If there are any two records I purchased prior to Live Bootleg, by the former, and At Budokan, by the latter, I do not recall them.

Thus, there are no two still-active rock artists for whom I've had a more enduring fandom (unless you count The Rolling Stones as active and allow Paul McCartney to represent The Beatles).

But with that said, opting to go to last night's double bill wasn't as obvious as it may seem. I've seen Cheap Trick several times, and while I will never tire of hearing their classics, as the opening act their influence on my decision to attend was substantive, but secondary.

And my desire to see Aerosmith was largely fueled by having been disappointed the two prior times I'd attended a concert of theirs. The first time, after years of their being high on my list of "favorite rock bands I've never seen live," was in 2004--with Cheap Trick as the opener--and for that I had to drive up to Green Bay. The bands were good, if not fantastic, but I was made rather uncomfortable by rude interactions with obnoxiously drunk cheeseheads (male and female) throughout the show.

And in August 2010, I with some friends got $10 lawn seats to see Aerosmith at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. Again, the music itself was enjoyable enough, but the sound was utterly atrocious, as I wrote about in my review. Plus, at the time, the band was in particularly intense turmoil, with Joe Perry having recently pushed Steven Tyler off a stage, and even from the lawn it looked like no one was interacting nor having much fun onstage.

That whole introduction serves to basically explain that I went to the UC last night in hopes of finally catching a first-rate Aerosmith show, and because I love Cheap Trick as well.

As Aerosmith sings in their earliest hit, "Dream On," from 1973, "dream until your dreams come true." Fortunately--in terms of getting an Aerosmith/Cheap Trick arena rock show as good as I hoped--they pretty much did.

Waiting until just this week to buy my ticket, through Ticketmaster, I got about the best cheap seat imaginable; 3rd row of the 3rd deck, straight away.

From there, except for through my binoculars, the members of both bands didn't look over 60--as most of them are, or close to it--and they sure didn't sound it.

Going on promptly at 8:00pm, before the house was full but with a number of fans--myself included--adorned in Cheap Trick t-shirts, the Rockford quartet played a terrific hourlong set.

Longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos no longer tours with the band, replaced by guitarist Rick Nielsen's son, Daxx, but with singer Robin Zander still sounding great, Cheap Trick delivered as-good-as-ever renditions of "Ain't That A Shame," "Surrender," "I Want You To Want Me," "Dream Police" and several other great oldies (see their full setlist on

As a CT fan to the extent I am, I certainly could say I wish they'd played this or that, but I was actually surprised Aerosmith allotted them a full hour and for an opening set, it couldn't have been any more satisfying.

Aerosmith opened their set in pretty cool fashion--as you can see in this video from a recent show--with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry rising up together through a lift at the end of a catwalk as the band ripped into "Draw the Line."

Perhaps it was just for show, but within the first five minutes, Steve & Joe seemed more amicable with each other than during the entirety of their 2010 gig. (Perhaps that's why Aerosmith has dubbed this "The Global Warming Tour.")

The rest of the original band--guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer--also seemed engaged and in sync. And while the United Center can be acoustically-challenged at times, everything sounded good enough for me, eons better than at the shed in Tinley.

Having become an Aerosmith fan in the late '70s, I still prefer their output from that decade to anything that came after (the same can be said for Cheap Trick as well).

So I was happy to hear powerful renditions of "Draw the Line," "Last Child," "Mama Kin," "Sweet Emotion," "Walk This Way" and "Train Kept a Rollin.'" I certainly would have also preferred to hear "Toys in the Attic" and/or "Back in the Saddle" instead of schmaltzy '90s ballads "Crying," "What It Takes" and "I Don't Want to Miss A Thing," but I get that Aerosmith expanded its fan base with that stuff and has to play it. If anything, the crowd seemed more revved up about the '80s and '90s tunes than most of the ones I loved from the '70s.

To their credit, Aerosmith played at least a couple new songs that fit in well, as well as a few older songs and/or covers that I didn't know, but sounded good (see Aerosmith's Chicago setlist on I could have stood for Kramer's drum solo to be a bit shorter, but as Tyler noted and the crowd saluted, it was the drummer's birthday.

With his voice still solid at 64, Tyler remains one of rock's best frontmen and now that he's seemingly playing nice with his bandmates, it's possible that Aerosmith is better they've been for years, and conceivably just as good if not better than they ever will be again .

Especially with Cheap Trick to open the evening, I'm glad I got another chance to catch them. And for anyone who rues missing them, the same double bill will appear at Milwaukee's Summerfest on July 7.

"Dream On" from the United Center, as found on YouTube:

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