Now we know rock is dead.
MusiCares is where you can do a year’s worth of business in one night. Everybody flies in for the event.
But it’s not only a who’s who, it’s also a who’s not. How can you tell? The better dressed they are, the more they take black tie seriously, the less importance they’ve got in the industry, if they’ve got any at all.
But the show is made for them.
Steve Boom of Amazon gave a good introductory speech. And then Cheap Trick came out and did “Rats In The Cellar.”
It was like waking up too early to your alarm clock. It was an assault of noise, akin to the original, but to go from zero to a hundred?
The audience was not prepared.
But from there we went to endless satiation of this aged audience fearful their eardrums would burst.
We had the Jonas Brothers.
Okay, for siblings they’ve got talent, but the real star here is the manager, he got them on the Kennedy Center Honors and Musicares? Whew! Never has so little excellence gotten so much exposure.
The brothers were followed by Luis Fonsi and Emily King. Singing the ballad “Angel.” Yup, it was just that kind of night, where Geffen Aerosmith dominated, the ballads with the expensive videos that played ad infinitum on MTV. After “Crazy” and “Angel” I was nearly somnambulant. Sure, Fonsi was the guy with the biggest hit of 2017, but you wouldn’t know it by this performance.
But then I was shocked into awareness by Ashley McBride, who sang “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” like she’d knocked back a few and had something to say, she was a revelation.
And then back to sleep.
I know, I know, they gave a standing ovation for Gavin DeGraw’s “What It Takes,” but what has Gavin DeGraw done for us lately, he’s the opposite of a rock star, he’s got no charisma, he’s a people-pleaser, and once again, we got later period Aerosmith, with “What It Takes.” Wasn’t anybody a fan of the real band? The Toxic Twins? There was as much edge during these performances as there is on the curb in front of your house.
Kesha killed “Janie’s Got A Gun,” turned it from spooky and driving into a dirge. And I know she killed Doctor Luke, but exactly why are we lauding Kesha? What is her continuing contribution to the music continuum? Talk about sleepy!
And whoever put this show together was woke, as in females were omnipresent. And Yola did a good take on “Cryin,” but who in the hell who’s a real Aerosmith fan wants to hear “Cryin'”? Gary Clark, Jr. shredded some good notes, but all I could think about the man is how cool he is and what a good guitar player he is and how he can’t write a sensational song.
But then we went even further downhill. LeAnn Rimes? Why? She’s about as rock as Whitney Houston, ha! And she sang the edgy “Livin’ On The Edge” and took all the edginess right out of it, it was like a Vegas performance.
But it was gonna get worse. John Legend performed “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” Please perform it when Diane Warren is honored by Musicares, and she’s about due, but this performance was about as stiff as the movie the song came from, “Armageddon.”
Then Jessie J came out and performed “Home Tonight,” which at least was from the Columbia years, but her take was all pop and no rock.
You see pop has dominated for years. Sure, Nirvana broke at the beginning of the nineties, but so did Mariah Carey. And Carey won.
Just tune in those TV competition shows. Everybody wants to be Carey, nobody wants to be Cobain. And rock doesn’t play well on TV. It doesn’t translate, the act and the sound seems small. And today people want to run toward glamour, they’re dying to sell out, to be an outsider is to be irrelevant and broke, and no one wants that.
But I figured Melissa Etheridge would hit it out of the park, she normally does. Maybe it was the backing band, maybe it was the arrangement, Melissa exhorted but ultimately her performance of “Walk This Way” fell flat.
But not as flat as Sammy Hagar’s take on “Back In The Saddle.”
These were the moments that were supposed to rescue the show, real rockers performing real rock hits. But Sammy looked like he’d just flown in from Cabo Wabo and he had energy, but there was no Eddie Van Halen and the arrangement…lacked nuance.
And then we had the dreaded Foo Fighters. If they’re the hope for rock, we’re doomed. Dave Grohl has the pedigree, but he’s just not dangerous. So he tries to convince us with a wall of noise. And that’s what it was. Sure, he’s a fan, but no fan would want to sit through his performance.
Now the highlight of the evening so far was Russell Brand’s intermittent riffs between acts…sometimes. Usually, they just showed a video of previous MusiCares performances, and if you’d been there, like most of the industry, this was boring.
But now it was time for the award.
Deborah Dugan being absent they brought out two women who lacked gravitas.
And then Dina LaPolt said she shared Cavalli shirts with Steven Tyler, but somehow Dina did not capture the essence of the band, their rock and roll. She talked about them showing up, but they were most interesting when they didn’t show up, when they walked the way they wanted to.
And out came Joey Kramer, up front and center. He got his time at the mic, Tyler acknowledged him, showing at heart the members of Aerosmith are mensches.
And now it was time for the band to play.
So about thirty or forty percent of the audience had already left, even though without the dreaded live auction the show was running nearly an hour earlier than previous editions.
And what you notice first is all the band members are relaxed. Why should they be uptight, this is what they do.
And the wall of amps and speakers. Especially Marshalls. That’s how it used to be, you knew the brands, you coveted them, you waited for them to kick you in the gut, it was not all in the box.
And Tyler kicks the band into…BIG TEN INCH RECORD?
Now wait a second. Everybody performing earlier had given the audience what it wanted, there were no middle fingers, even Grohl was smiling, and you play this side-closing runaway first? A track that almost no one in the audience is aware of except diehard fans?
And they were not in attendance. This was about seeing and being seen, being able to tell people you were there, charity, not music.
And all the steel wool of the evening’s sound, all the mix issues, the wall of noise was wiped clean and the band’s sound was crystal clear, it was like an injection of adrenaline into an audience on life support.
It wasn’t that Aerosmith were trying to convince us. Veteran concertgoers have experienced that…when the opening act grabs the crowd by the noggin and pulls them into the music. And the band wasn’t going through the motions. They were just doing their act, and that’s a natural fact. A real rock band, whose sound was honed over the years, delivering for those who hadn’t seen it in decades, if they’d ever seen it at all.
Nobody on stage was warm and fuzzy. Tyler spit his gum across the stage. Perry sneered, Whitford looked like he’d come down from the North Pole for this gig. Every note was in place, it was amazing.
And then came “Dream On,” you knew they had to do it. You were praying for Run-DMC to come out for a surprise “Walk This Way,” but since Melissa and Nuno Bettencourt (where’s he been?) had performed it earlier, there was no way.
H.E.R. came out and shredded, demonstrating her chops, not as much as Orianthi had done with Hagar, but this was a more cohesive performance, this was truly Aerosmith, albeit a ballad, however, the sound intensified.
But then Tyler called Tom Hamilton forward.
You knew what was gonna happen, I knew what was gonna happen.
Tom pulled out the riff, Joe spoke into the voice box and then…
It was like they’d lit the fire on one of those rockets down at Cape Canaveral, you couldn’t help but jump to your feet, I’m tingling just thinking about it.
“Talk about things and nobody cares
Wearing those things that nobody wears
You’re callin’ my name but I gotta make clear I can’t say baby where I’ll be in a year”
It was 1975. It’d been almost two years since “Dream On” had hit, in the eyes of the audience the band was a one hit wonder.
But in between they’d recruited Jack Douglas and released my favorite Aerosmith LP, “Get Your Wings,” it was not the same old song and dance.
The second cut is my Aerosmith favorite, “Lord Of The Thighs.” As their manager at the time, David Krebs, told me, no act could put that out today, which is one reason rock has died, it was sexist, it was edgy, it was not politically correct.
And from “Lord Of The Thighs” the needle grooved into “Spaced” and “Woman Of The World,” the latter an absolute in-your-face stunner.
But none of the songs from “Get Your Wings” broke through. The band got better and better on the road, and they were primed for stardom and when they pulled the toys out of the attic…SUDDENLY EVERYBODY WAS PAYING ATTENTION!
It was a different era. Cars had FM radios. AOR ruled. If you were featured on these stations, which were in every market, everybody knew your name.
“I pulled into town in a police car
Your daddy said I took it just a little too far You’re telling other things but your girlfriend lied You can’t catch me ’cause the rabbit done died Yes it did”
Outlaws. The Eagles had done a whole album about it, with photos to boot, “Desperado” is the song that gets the most applause in their shows today!
You didn’t get arrested for shooting someone, but just being yourself, smoking the marijuana that is now legal. Standing out because of your appearance. Loathed because people thought you got your money for nothing and your chicks for free.
“Standin’ in the front just a-shakin’ your ass I take you backstage you can drink from my glass I talk about something you can sure understand ‘Cause a month on the road and I’ll be eatin’ from your hand”
And the girls were willing.
There aren’t even groupies anymore. There are much richer men to pursue, who are truly breaking the rules, in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, musicians are part of the sideshow, re-enacting tropes from long ago. This is why the Beatles put out the White Album…designs had gotten too elaborate, it was a statement, they were breaking from the pack…no one is making a statement and breaking from the pack today.
And there were no smartphones, no ever-present cameras. The world was bigger, and one of the reasons you formed a rock band, and went on the road was…
Girls. Sex. Taboos.
And by this point women are rushing the stage. Especially those from further back, they need to get closer…remember when this was the case, before all the up front seats were sold by scalpers to wankers?
And this ain’t no four-banger. This is an eight, burning up the gas, with the pedal to the metal, firing on all cylinders. This was not a pale imitation of the original, this was a living, breathing recreation of what was on wax.
And it’s like all the acts who plied the stage previously no longer existed. They were wiped from our memory by America’s greatest rock and roll band, and on this night they could stand up to the Stones no problem.
So now everybody’s left their seats, everybody’s standing, you no longer have a clear line of sight…
You’re at a rock show.
Tyler introduces Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp and Alice blows his harp into his mic while Tyler does the same and it’s very clear that this locomotive is TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN’.
Yup, the Yardbirds took this old blues chestnut and injected Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and although it was never on the hit parade, anybody who wanted to play the guitar, who needed to get closer to the music, knew it, and on “Get Your Wings” Aerosmith did their take.
Now let me see. It was black tie. People with a lot more money than edge. But Aerosmith was delivering the show that would have an audience foaming at the mouth back in ’75.
But they’re seventy.
If we have to rely on today’s acts to take us there…it ain’t gonna happen in this world of safe pop, where the most dangerous element of the show is being in the audience, fearful some bad actor will blow the place up.
And unlike Jagger, Tyler wasn’t playing at being thirty, this act had miles on ’em, but like those old blues legends they still knew how to deliver, it was in their blood.
And I’m standing there, thrusting my arms in the air with a smile on my face, after being bored to death at what had come before, figuring that everybody had lost the plot, had no clue as to the essence, Aerosmith connected yesterday and today and showed us all how it was done.
You should have seen it.