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Steven Tyler | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

In case you haven’t heard, Steven Tyler has gone country.  After a year of teasing it, the Aerosmith frontman released his first solo country album, the T Bone Burnett-produced We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, in May of this year.  With an Aerosmith “Farewell Tour” looming in the not too distant future, Steven Tyler is officially on his own and “Out On A Limb”, literally, as he makes his way through a 19-city tour of small venues across the United States, stopping before a sold out crowd in Philadelphia at the Tower Theater on Wednesday night.

The show began with a video montage of photos of Tyler as a boy spliced with interview clips taken from various points in Aerosmith’s vast history.  In them, we saw a much younger Tyler discuss his hope that he would still be rocking when he’s old and gray.  If you’ve read my past concert coverage, you already know video introductions befuddle me.  This show in particular was advertised as Tyler’s way of intimately reconnecting with his audience as he explores a new sound.  That experience needs no preamble, so why begin with a retrospective?

Still, the two-minute-long video was good for building momentum, a feeling that was amplified by my position behind the soundboard where I could hear the sound technicians count down the seconds to the moment Steven Tyler took the stage.  I felt like I was being strapped inside a rocket ship.  By the time the opening chords of “Sweet Emotion” bubbled from the darkness beneath that video screen, it was blast off.

Steven Tyler | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

Steven Tyler | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

Backed by the five piece Nashville band Loving Mary, with which he recorded the new album, Tyler was taking us to rock ‘n roll fantasy camp.  It was a scene straight out of Almost Famous, complete with bell bottoms and strategically placed wind machines for dramatic hair flow.  At this point, the show was far too fun to labor over inconsistencies.  But there were a few, the most glaring being a setlist that grew muscle not from Tyler’s new material – he played less than half of his new album – but from Aerosmith heavy hitters and a healthy handful of covers.

It’s nothing worth complaining about.  An early cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” had even the security staff dancing in the aisles while Aerosmith classics like “What It Takes” fit the country-tinged blues aesthetic Tyler is apparently now striving for.  But besides that, the only thing “country” about this show was the hodgepodge of old signs lining the stage.  One placed center stage advertised a “Windy Hollow Jamboree” while a giant metal heart lit up Vegas-style when Tyler took to the piano for Aerosmith’s “Dream On”.  It was stage decor that may or may not have been provided by Cracker Barrel.

Between songs, Tyler was connective, charming and chatty, offering stories of his musical influences as a child (The Everly Brothers and later, Fleetwood Mac), and the first time he met Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.  Each tale was supplemented with an old photo projected on the giant screen, which made up for the fact that some of Tyler’s spoken details were lost in a microphone tuned for the “Demon of Screamin'”.

Steven Tyler | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

Steven Tyler | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

While the show was musically exhilarating from beginning to end, Tyler didn’t truly go out on a limb until the encore.  With the fog machine on full blast, he reappeared under one spotlight like a lone wolf and let out a few smooth yet startling howls as Loving Mary eased into a bare-bones version of “Janie’s Got a Gun”.  The reimagined classic appears on We’re All Somebody and certainly bears the fingerprint of producer T Bone Burnett.  Its stripped-down darkness adds a chilling factor to a song with an already unsettling subject matter.

It was the biggest risk Tyler took throughout the evening and made the listener wish he had relied less on the past to move things forward or at the least taken more time to retool Aerosmith’s material to better fit all the dirty blues and Southern grit Loving Mary had to offer.  Tracks like “Love Is Your Name” and “It Ain’t Easy” are beautiful and intricate, while the set closer “My Own Worst Enemy” is an absolute gut wrencher with its heartbroken melody, aching accordion and heavy trembling piano.

All that wonder was a little buried under the weight of many who took a mellow, artful moment to send an Instagram update, popping back up only for the familiarity of “Walk This Way”.  But in an evening that was a constant battle between intimacy and grandiosity, intimacy emerged victorious.

SETLIST

Sweet Emotion

Cryin’

I’m Down/Oh Darling (Beatles cover)

Come Together (Beatles cover)

It Ain’t Easy

Piece of My Heart (Janis Joplin cover)

Rattlesnake Shake (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Jaded

Love Is Your Name

I Make My Own Sunshine

What It Takes

We’re All Somebody From Somewhere

My Own Worst Enemy

Dream On

Walk This Way

Encore

Janie’s Got A Gun

Only Heaven

Train Kept A’Rollin (Tiny Bradshaw cover)

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