Story and Photos by Scott Smith
Aerosmith and Cheap Trick have kicked Father Time in the gut.
The two rock bands gave 150 percent for a sold-out crowd July 28 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, with both groups changing up their set lists and displaying a youthful energy under multi-colored stage lights. Stretching well past the three-hour mark, the show let one Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group (Aerosmith) and one band that miraculously has been refused an induction by the hall (Cheap Trick) strut their high-decibel, swaggering stuff.
Cheap Trick opened the evening, as original members Rick Nielsen (guitar), Robin Zander (lead vocals, guitar) and Tom Peterssen (12-string bass) became a sonic flamethrower. The trio roamed the shadowed stage as Nielsen’s son, Daxx Nielsen impressively performed drum duties — Daxx has been Cheap Trick’s touring drummer for the last three years, while original drummer Bun E. Carlos remains a band member.
The machine gun-like “Clock Strikes Ten” arrived early in the set. Zander, dressed in a black “Dream Police” uniform, belted out the lyrics as the hands of Peterssen and Rick Nielsen raced across guitar necks. Dressed in black ball cap, sunglasses and black clothes, Nielsen, as usual, threw out countless guitar picks to fans while running across the stage. The six-stringer’s licks sounded fresh as ever, mixing melodic, Beatles-like guitar runs with moments of manic, Who-esque wailing.
“Surrender,” “Need Your Love,” “The Flame” and the surprise inclusion of the punkish “She’s Tight” all were accounted for during Cheap Trick’s too-short, 45-minute time spot. Despite the abbreviated set, the Rockford, Illinois-borne quartet surprised the multi-generational audience by slipping in the blistering “I Know What I Want,” letting a smiling Peterssen take lead vocals for the stomping rock track, while “Dream Police” and “I Want You To Want Me” comprising a most powerful, one-two punch of an encore.
Twenty minutes later, Boston’s bad boys of rock and roll commandeered the stage with a surprising, wonderful take of the underrated “Draw the Line.” Lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry emerged at the front of the stage’s center-aisle catwalk, while guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer staked their space on the main-stage.
The final chords of “Draw the Line” bled into a spirited version of “Love in an Elevator” before “Same Old Song and Dance” arrived. The tracks from Aerosmith’s comeback, post-1986 years sounded solid — “Livin’ on the Edge,” “Rag Doll,” “Jaded” and “Oh Yeah” contained much-needed grit — but it was the 1970s tracks that harbored the most venom.
“Rats in the Cellar” came out swinging and “Last Child” proved even funkier than its original studio incarnation. When Aerosmith dove head-first into The Beatles’ “Come Together,” most of the fans seemed shocked before cheering their approval.
Aerosmith’s sole new song of the night, “Legendary Child,” was strong, with 10-story guitar hooks and edgy drums and bass. Hamilton sounded great on bass and got several back slaps and shoulder rubs from Tyler during Aerosmith’s first three songs. Hamilton underwent cancer treatment back in mid-2009 and temporarily was replaced by Perry’s solo bassist, David Hull, for part of that ‘09 tour. In Dallas, it was obvious that Hamilton was glad to be healthy and back on the road — his broad grin was seen all night.
“What It Takes” and “Dream On,” technically, were the only ballads in Aerosmith’s set. “Dream On” started moments after a large, white piano raised from below the stage and into several spotlights. Tyler sat down at the piano to play the song’s opening, haunting chords as Perry, a few moments later, climbed a portable staircase to stand on top of the piano while playing guitar.
Tyler, symbolically thumbing his nose at authority, bragged that the band was going to play past curfew as the crowd roared for 30 seconds. The way Perry and Whitford played with some of the songs’ arrangements and stretched their solos led to a set that was longer and even more satisfying than their still-excellent gigs in Little Rock in 2004 and Tulsa in 2009.
Aerosmith’s 130-minute set included the Perry-sung “Combination” and lively readings of “Boogie Man” and the “Peter Gunn” theme before climaxing with a perfect version of “Train Kept a Rollin’” as yellow-white lights and lengthy sprays of confetti showered the adoring, concert-shirt wearing crowd. Like Cheap Trick, Aerosmith showed zero interest in slowing down touring or recordings schedules.