Sweet Emotion

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Live! Bootleg (1978)

For Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, click here!

LIVE BOOTLEG_0001AEROSMITH – Live! Bootleg (1978 Columbia, 2003 Sony)

Five records in, and it’s time for a double live.  Aerosmith had gained a reputation for their fiery live shows, and bootleggers were ensuring that fans willing to pay had something live that they could buy.  The way to beat the bootleggers was for Aerosmith to put out their own official live album.  Collecting tracks from a variety of live performances and radio broadcasts, including many songs unavailable on album, Live! Bootleg is today one of the best examples of the epic double live.  The intentionally shoddy album art conceals within it a live record of nuclear critical mass.  With liner notes, photos, and even hidden tracks, Live! Bootleg hits all the bases.

“Back in the Saddle” recorded in ’77 is chosen to open the proceedings, which it does with the kind of rawness that only comes with a real live performance.  Unfortunately it’s a thin sounding version, but fear not because “Sweet Emotion” in March ’78 is full of guitar noise.  The liner notes state that there are no synthesizers on the song, just guitars “screaming in pair”.  Then “Lord of the Thighs” from the same gig keeps the momentum going smooth and dirty.  The extended jamming stretches the song out to the seven minute mark, and that is the kind of noisy spontaneity that wasn’t captured on any of Aerosmith’s studio albums.

“Toys in the Attic” was recorded in the boys’ home town of Boston, straining at the leash.  It’s a fevered live take, faster and more reckless.  Then, also from Boston is the Tyler/Whitford classic of Aerofunk tastiness, it’s the “Last Child”.  Live (in a club), it’s funkier and slinkier.  The first surprise rolled out on the album is the Beatles cover “Come Together”, from a secret gig in ’78 at the band’s headquarters the Wherehouse.  It’s very similar to the studio version they did for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack, perhaps a bit slower and more menacing.

Joe Perry dusts off the talk box for an ultra-funky “Walk This Way”.  In Deke’s review at Arena Rock, he said “Joey [Kramer] sets the tone and man he’s driving the bus at break-neck speed.”  That’s it exactly!  This is Aerosmith starring in that movie about the bus that couldn’t slow down!  (I think it was called The Bus that Couldn’t Slow Down.)  As if that isn’t hot enough, a smoking “Sick as a Dog” from ’77 crashes the damn bus over the guiderail and off into the sunset!  Lots of tasty extended soloing here.

Eight songs in and only now we’re hitting the first ballad, and only ballad!  “Dream On” is a necessary outing.  Aerosmith slow it down a bit a-la “Stairway” and let it build.  Look for a surprise f-bomb in the middle of the song.  (I guess Aerosmith were not being recorded for radio broadcast that day, or if they were, Tyler just didn’t give a fuck!)

LIVE BOOTLEG_0006Deke’s good buddy T-Bone and I have one thing in common.  Our favourite Aerosmith song of all time is “Chip Away the Stone”, written with Richie Supa.  This brand new song was chosen as the single fron Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was relegated to a B-side!  The live one has less piano, but has just as much boogie.  This is Aerosmith doing that old time rock and roll.  (The current version of Guns N’ Roses has been known to play “Chip Away the Stone” from time to time.)

Bringing back the funk of “Sight for Sore Eyes”, there is no time for rest, and from there it’s straight into “Mama Kin”.  Everything that the first Aerosmith album lacked in out-of-control raucousness is intact on this live version.  Without a breath they tear into “S.O.S. (Too Bad)”, ablaze with the intensity of fully-fuelled Aerosmith.

There’s an awkward transition between “S.O.S.” (recorded ’77 in Indianapolis) and “I Ain’t Got You” (1973 for a radio broadcast).  The younger band sound very different, less wartorn and ragged from the drugs.  They go straight into James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn”, complete with sax.  It’s the funkiest thing Aerosmith have ever done by a long shot.  Material like these tracks are perfect examples why Live! Bootleg is so beloved today.  They were giving you value for your money, and songs that you didn’t have, but didn’t know you didn’t have!

The next surprise is the unlisted “Draw the Line”, a live version so over the top that perhaps it even surpasses the original!  Wait until you get to Tyler’s screams if you don’t believe me.  Checkmate honey!  After a tracklist like this, ending the album with “Train Kept a Rollin'” (Detroit 1978) is one of the only options left.  Probably tired from an energetic set, Tyler gets the audience’s help on the chorus.  Joe Perry’s hanging by a thread but still able to piece together some gratuitous solos.   He throws in a bit of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” for shits n’ giggles too.  Live! Bootleg ends on an overindulgent but perfectly appropriate note.

The radioactive fallout from their double live album bought Aerosmith, burning out fast from the inside, a little more time before being required to produce something new.  Even then they were breaking from the strain.  Something had to give.

Fortunately before imploding, Aerosmith managed to crank out the obligatory double live album that helped seal their place in rock history.  Check that one off the box!

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975)

TOYS IN THE ATTIC_0001AEROSMITH – Toys in the Attic (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

What’s your lucky number?  For Aerosmith, maybe it’s 3.  Third album in as many years, Toys in the Attic is considered by some to be the album: “If you’re only going to get one,” the desert island record.  Considering that Rocks was yet to come, let’s withhold judgement until we get there.  For now just be aware there is a lot of Aero-love in the world for Toys in the Attic, and you can hear why.

As if to prove that Aerosmith could keep up with some of their heavier competitors out there, “Toys in the Attic” is a blazing guitarfest careening through the speaker into your skull.  What a way to open an album: it’s a statement.  The band were honed to a razor-sharp edge by producer Jack Douglas.  Joe Perry in particular had grown to be a ferociously good blues-rock player, and “Toys in the Attic” is the evidence.

One of the great joys of listening to Aerosmith is finding the little known album gems that weren’t repeatedly re-released on hits packages.  “Uncle Salty”, a slow crawl through the blues via the neck of a bottle, is one such track.  Also underexposed is “Adam’s Apple”, which shows off Joe Perry’s greasy slide guitar sleaze.  The horn section makes an appearance here too, adding extra sauce.  Then they bring the funk on “Walk the Way”.  Run DMC recognized that funk and knew how to update it in 1986.  In 1975, Tom Hamilton’s rolling bass was the stuff that groove is made of.  This is the kind of song that proves the musical ability of these five gents from beantown beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Then the sassy horns return on “Big Ten Inch Record”, an old R&B classic from 1952.  Remarkably the band pull it off with class and sassafras.

“Sweet Emotion” is one of the band’s best known today, something that Tom Hamilton must be happy about, since it’s one of only a few Tyler/Hamilton co-writes.  It’s no surprise that Hamilton had a hand in its composition since it’s based on another one of his rolling bass lines.  But listen to the way Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford lock into him.  That groove is the foundation on which Aerosmith was built.  On top of that, Steven Tyler has always had a way with melody.  “No More No More” is one of his most irresistible singalongs.

The Sabbathy thunder of “Round and Round” was an unexpected twist.  Tracks like this and the later “Nobody’s Fault” show the metallic side of Aerosmith that usually remains shrouded.  “Round and Round”, though menacing and heavy as a brick, is the least memorable song on Toys in the Attic (only because the competition was so good).  Brad Whitford takes care of the solos on this one, a song he co-wrote (just like “Nobody’s Fault”).

“You See Me Crying” ends the album on a melancholy note but lovely note.  A piano based tune with strings and McCartney-ish melodies, it is truly the kind of classic that Aerosmith will be remembered for.  If it were not for songs like “Dream On”, “Seasons of Wither”, and “You See Me Crying”, then Aerosmith would be just another American rock and roll band playing their version of the blues that the Stones and Zeppelins of the world had already plundered.  “You See Me Crying” was proof that Aerosmith were more than that, and had their own thing going on.  (That’s Whitford playing the solos again, by the way.)

So what’s better?  Toys in the Attic, or Rocks?  Let’s find out next time.

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)