Review: Steven Tyler goes solo, sticks to Aerosmith's spirit at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater
Forget the notion that Steven Tyler has gone soft by going country. Heck, forget the notion he’s gone country at all.
The 68-year-old Aerosmith frontman is touring behind his solo Nashville record We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, but judging from his concert Monday at a sold-out and raucous Ruth Eckerd Hall, Tyler’s physically incapable of stripping rock ‘n’ roll from his soul.
Backed by a band, Loving Mary, that could match him wail for wail and wiggle for waggle, Tyler did all he could to cram his stadium-sized personality – and plenty of Aerosmith classics – into the relatively intimate theater.
No, part-time Sarasota resident Joe Perry didn’t drop in for a cameo. But if you wanted a rare taste of Aerosmith in Tampa Bay, Tyler’s lone solo Florida stop was as close as you were going to get.
“Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” he purred, his brilliant pearly whites gleaming up through the crowd. “Because no great story ever started with anybody eating a salad.”
Never one to shy from theatrical flair, Tyler walked out pretending to read a Tampa Bay Times section with his face on the cover (hey, that’s my story!) before crumpling it up and tossing it over his shoulder (d’oh!) as his band thrummed into Sweet Emotion, followed by a hammering, howling Cryin’.
After decades of playing to the upper decks of arenas and stadiums, the sinewy singer has mastered the art of looking larger than life, and the effect of all his flair felt compounded in a venue as cozy as Ruth Eckerd. Splay-legged and spider-limbed, with a platinum splash in his messy black mane, he sang while dangling mere inches above the high-rollers in the front row, and even unleashed a split kick or three during closer Train Kept A-Rollin', some two-plus hours after he started.
His voice? Still a 200-proof marvel when it hit its pinnacle on Piece Of My Heart or that hallucinatory outro to Dream On. He’d skip a high note here and there – contrary to popular belief, he is human – but those he aimed for, he mostly hit, and with a vengeance to boot.
That unmistakable howl is what made this night feel nothing like your average country show. Sure, some of the new Nashville songs felt familiar – there was a sweeping Lady A sleekness to Love Is Your Name, an oceanside Zac Brown easiness to I Make My Own Sunshine, a Florida Georgia Line bombast to Red, White and You. But the title track was a dirty, growling swamp-rock stomper that saw Tyler scatting and bopping like a wild live wire. And with its blitzing power balladry, Only Heaven could’ve been a monster Aerosmith hit in about 1996.
Speaking of: Aerosmith’s got so many big ones that no setlist Tyler picked could've squeezed them all in. But there were enough rambunctious originals (Walk This Way, What It Takes) or favorite covers (the Beatles’ Come Together and I’m Down, Fleetwood Mac’s Rattlesnake Shake) that picking nits about a couple of selections (the disjointed Jaded; a heavy, zombie-Western spin on Janie’s Got a Gun) just feels greedy.
All night, Tyler regaled the crowd with rambling stories and old personal photos (the shot of him mowing lawns in a Speedo was worth the ticket price in and of itself). He played the ukulele and piano, and twirled his scarf-covered mic stand like he was wielding a weapon. When he removed his rings and bracelets to play djembe on Walk This Way, he simply tossed them into the crowd.
And in a rare display of grown-up behavior, he even plugged a few bucks into a swear jar sitting by the drummer – including $100 from a VIP down front who must’ve just wanted to hear Tyler cuss with abandon.
So what did he do? He cussed loud and cut loose for the rest of the night, because that's what rock stars do. Even the ones that go country.
-- Jay Cridlin