REVIEW: Aerosmith – Unplugged 1990

AEROSMITH – Unplugged 1990 (2017 Zap City broadcast CD)

When Aerosmith’s MTV Unplugged aired in Canada, we didn’t get the whole show.  We only got about half.  Now thanks to easily acquired broadcast CDs, you can get all 14 tracks in one handy place.  Because MTV were rigid about things being 100% live, you’ll get none of the annoying backing tracks that Aerosmith use today.  That makes Aerosmith Unplugged a strong contender for the best live Aerosmith purchase since Classics Live II.

“Hangman Jury” is a natural for an opener, and actually superior to the Permanent Vacation album cut.  “Monkey On My Back” is more surprising, being a heavier groove from Pump.  Deconstructed as an acoustic jam, it lays it down hard.  The first surprise of the night comes from the Air America soundtrack, to which Aerosmith contributed their Doors cover “Love Me Two Times”.  Frankly the unplugged version is better.  Tyler gets to honk on the harmonica and tear it up on the vocals a bit.

The first step back into Aerosmith’s past is 1974’s “Seasons of Wither”.  When this set was recorded in 1990, only people who owned Get Your Wings would really have known this song.  The purity of the unplugged stage is the ideal setting.  Then it’s onto 1975 and “Big Ten Inch Record”, the old R&B classic they covered on Toys in the Attic.  The album version with full horns is rearranged into an acoustic shuffle with individual guitar solos by Brad Whitford and Joe Perry.  That’s all before Thom Gimbel shows up with his sax!   This version kills.

Going even further back in time, Aerosmith pull “One Way Street” from the first album featuring a cool Perry solo.  For serious fans, “Smokestack Lightning” is a treat because Aerosmith have never recorded it before.  The oft-imitated Howlin’ Wolf cover is a natural jam for them.  They they unload the heavy artillery exactly halfway into the set:  “Dream On”.  Arguably the song everybody was waiting to hear; easily a highlight.  Playing with minimal instrumentation is a wise way to do it, though it picks up steam at the end.

“Milk Cow Blues” is rolled out next, a rarely played number from Draw the Line.  Full steam ahead just like the album version, you don’t wanna be standing on the tracks when this one rolls by.  Then, as if you’re daring them to try one that fast again, it’s “Toys in the Attic”.  Tyler and Perry’s voices blend naturally together in the unforgiving unplugged environment.

Returning once more to the first album, “Walkin’ the Dog” is the fifth of six cover tunes and the first encore.  It’s particularly cool because you get Tyler playing flute.  “Train Kept-a Rollin'” from Get Your Wings is the final cover, though presented twice:  “fast” and “slow” versions.  For a solid thrills-per-second ratio, you gotta go for the fast take.  Finally “Last Child” is announced to the excitement of one really hyped guy in the crowd.  The funky classic works surprisingly well.  A highlight from a show of nothing but highlights.

The CD had a few sonic clicks and quirks that may vary player to player.  That would be its only flaw.  Anyone buying broadcast CDs should be prepared for less than perfect audio.

4/5 stars

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