AEROSMITH: A LITTLE SOUTH OF SANITY (1998)
CD I: 1) Eat The Rich; 2) Love In An Elevator; 3) Falling In Love (Is Hard On The Knees); 4) Same Old Song And Dance; 5) Hole In My Soul; 6) Monkey On My Back; 7) Livin' On The Edge; 8) Cryin'; 9) Rag Doll; 10) Angel; 11) Janie's Got A Gun; 12) Amazing; CD II: 1) Back In The Saddle; 2) Last Child; 3) The Other Side; 4) Walk On Down; 5) Dream On; 6) Crazy; 7) Mama Kin; 8) Walk This Way; 9) Dude (Looks Like A Lady); 10) What It Takes; 11) Sweet Emotion.
No matter how deep the depths this band has attained with its latter day career, one thing is for certain: Aerosmith have always been terrific live performers. This is one unquestionable advantage they have on their forefathers — most of the Rolling Stones' shows have followed the hit-and-miss principle ever since the departure of Mick Taylor, always depending on just how much out of focus the guitar players are on this particular evening, and on how «playful» the frontman is feeling (as in, «do I want to sing tonight, or do I just feel like jumping?»).
Aerosmith have steadily remained far more reliable. There is not a single video or live recording of the band that I've seen that does not combine a fun atmosphere with a lot of hard work, and their stage presence has only solidified with age. They could be slightly wobbly in the good old days of drug rule, as is clearly seen on Classics Live and bits of Live Bootleg!, but ever since the big clean-up it almost feels like Perry and Whitford have not missed or flubbed one note, whereas Tyler's on-key screaming is, if anything, even more precise and powerful than in the early days. In other words, in the studio they might have still be selling their souls to the devil from dawn to dusk, but onstage, no matter how many crappy MTV hits they had tucked behind their belts, they were still one of the world's greatest rock'n'roll bands.
Which would have surely made this lengthy double CD of live recordings from the Get A Grip and Nine Lives tours their best offering to true fans since the Seventies — if not for the utterly depressing setlist, of course. With but seven out of twenty-three selections recreating the glory of their classic period, this is not even an accurate reflection of the way these tours really went, since normally they used to do about half old stuff, half new stuff. It may, of course, be simply due to the fact that the band did not want to reuse the same tunes that everyone had already heard live on Live Bootleg! etc., but it is way more likely that they were simply hoping to play more into the hands of their new generations of adoring fans, open-minded to the point of digging 'Livin' On The Edge' on par with 'Last Child' and 'Hole In My Soul' on par with 'Dream On'. Well — «no harm in being open-minded», said the executioner, swinging his axe.
Of course, not all of these new hits are bad, and sometimes the live renditions can make you think twice of their quality: 'Love In An Elevator', for instance, in this particular version comes across more like a nice pretext for Perry and Whitford to do some blazing guitar sparring than a forced attempt to outgross the hair metal bands of the late Eighties. But what is the point in offering us note-for-note recreations of all the power ballads they had recorded from 1987 to 1997? As silly as it looks when the entire stadium is rocking its lighters to the steady hypnotic sway of the next processed anthem, it is much sillier (and just as dangerous) when your average fan is doing it alone in front of his stereo.
The one true moment for which the whole record is worth owning is the start of the second disk, as the band, speared on by Tyler's mega-yell of "I GOT BLISTERS ON MY SISTERS!", threateningly launches into 'Back In The Saddle'. "So you like the new shit, the old shit, where were you in '78?" he teases the audience. "Where the fuck were you in '79? Magic Mountain, baby, Magic Mountain!" Well, at least the band still remembers where it was in '78, and is able to rock out with the exact same strength. Too bad they only do it for one more number in a row, 'Last Child', and then switch back into teen-pop mode with 'The Other Side'. Oh well; at least they make sure that the album says goodbye with a true classic like 'Sweet Emotion' rather than a generic power ballad like 'What It Takes' (I admire Tyler's courage in singing the first verse acappella, but, given the number's nauseating level of bathos, the effect is even uglier).
Still, despite all the obvious reservations, a thumbs up — if only out of respect for the band's legacy and its ability to maintain integrity on stage even when wading through all the dreck. Plus, 'Walk On Down' rocks. They should let Joe Perry take lead vocals more often.