By David Glessner, Special to the American-Statesman
For a guy with the No.1 album on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart (yes, believe it!), Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler showed very few signs of twang and drawl as he rocked Bass Concert Hall on Tuesday night.
Promoting his debut solo album, “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is billing his current tour as “Out on a Limb,” but said limb was pretty short — and that was just fine with an intentionally downsized audience of some 3,000 excited middle-age rockers (this writer included).
Backed by the deadly accurate six-piece Nashville band, Loving Mary (who played a not-so-secret, sold-out show at Strange Brew Coffee House the night before), 68-year-old Tyler hit the stage looking like a million-dollar ragamuffin. After a quickly shouted hello, the scarecrow-skinny singer tore into a faithful, straight-rock version of the Aerosmith classic, “Sweet Emotion” and the collective rumps of the audience rarely returned to their seats.
Next up was “Cryin,’” one of Aerosmith’s numerous 1990s’ comeback hits. A contagious sway-along and MTV staple, the song reached a fever pitch when Tyler blew a storm on harmonica and then tossed the now-priceless souvenir into the audience. Dang!
As far as new tunes, Tyler and Loving Mary offered “Love is Your Name,” “Red, White and You,” “Only Heaven,” “My Worst Enemy” and “I Make My Own Sunshine.” The songs, Tyler said, were inspired by his recent relocation to Nashville and his eternal love for the Everly Brothers. Collectively, they landed somewhere between Aerosmith balladry and pop-country.
Loving Mary, it must be said, was stupendously talented in musicianship, stage presence and especially vocal harmonies. Not surprising given their pedigree (look them up). The three guys/three gals sextet (including guitarist and smash-hit songwriter Marti Frederiksen) wore all the frocks and props of a hillbilly country band – banjo, acoustic guitars, pedal steel, bandannas and vests – but there was nothing Waylon or Willie about them. They weren’t Aerosmith loud, but they certainly would scare the coyotes away from a campfire. That’s not a complaint, mind you, just an observation for anyone thinking Tyler has mellowed his stage with age.
Speaking of age, Tyler was well aware that Tuesday also was Mick Jagger’s 73rd birthday.
“I heard he once called me his bastard son,” Tyler told the audience. “But he wasn’t the one …” He then launched into Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” featuring show-stopping duet vocals between himself and Loving Mary bassist Rebecca-Lynn Howard. Vocally, it was the night’s most memorable moment, which is saying a lot considering Tyler’s trademark chimp-yelp remains a jaw-dropping marvel. Not an ear in the house went home un-stunned.
The rest of the night was a near-even mix of Aerosmith (“Jaded,” the always breathtaking “Dream On” and “Walk This Way”) and classic rock cover tunes, including the Beatles’ “I’m Down” and “Come Together,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake” and Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept A-Rollin.”
The biggest twists were a “countrified” version of Aerosmith’s 1989 hit “What it Takes” (again, with Tyler in amazing vocal form) and a darker, swampier rendition of “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Both worked well in their newly tailored disguises.
Throughout the concert, themed video backdrops of sunsets, farm fields and small towns reminded the audience that Tyler was indulging his inner cowboy. In the end, however, his giddy-up got up and went, and there was no denying Tyler remains one of the most captivating rock-n-rollers to ever strut and shout.