Sometimes you go to a rock show because you just need to go. Rock and roll has gone through many phases over the years. But once in a while we're left with bands that rise to the top, bands that stand all tests of time. Aerosmith and Cheap Trick are decidedly two of those bands, bands you just NEED to see every so often; if nothing else, to inspire and remind you of what is great about stripped-down rock music.
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N' Roses and the frontman of Seattle's Loaded. Read his column every Thursday at seattleweekly.com/reverb.
Both bands played the Tacoma Dome last week, and after thinking of as many reasons as I could to get out of making that drive down south through gross traffic, there was nothing that could keep me from seeing Aerosmith and Cheap Trick.
These two bands had an epic musical influence on my formative years. The bands that we formed later on in the early '80s had a dose of these influences mixed with the aggression of punk rock. There was no one I knew—hard-core punker or metal maniac—who didn't just love Aerosmith and Cheap Trick. Records like Toys In The Attic and In Color will earn a band a lifelong cool factor.
The show was sold out. That's a good sign for rock and roll.
Cheap Trick have always kept it real. They have never strayed from their original goal of writing great rockers with insane melodies. Their live shows are—probably because of the epic 1979 album, Cheap Trick at Budokan—always looked forward to with a sort of loving rockticipation (Is that a word? It is now!). The Trick have never used tape at shows, and they have never gone to in-ear monitors or other newfangled onstage technology. They play loud rock music, and no one really does this type of thing better than Cheap Trick. AND, they just don't seem to lose, nor surrender, a step. (It was an honor, it must be said, to be asked to sit in with the band during their set.)
There has been drama and intrigue surrounding Aerosmith over the past decade. Questions have been asked about how much of some of their show was actually live. Questions have been asked about them trying to capture some of that old riff-writing song-wizardry of yore. Are they getting high again? Is Tom Hamilton going to be okay? Are they going to break up?
About 25 years ago, I was given the chance (with GNR) to open for Aerosmith, which was well on its way to being all the way back on top after a bad band breakup and struggles with some serious vice. This was a dream scenario for a band like ours. These guys were our living, breathing heroes, and I remember almost pinching myself every night when the opening piano line of "Dream On" would get played. I mean . . . SHIT! This was fucking Aerosmith! We were there . . . side-stage . . . and now, sort of even doing something in CONJUNCTION with these heroes of ours. It was a magical time, to say the very least.
All of that negative hoopla that surrounds a band like Aerosmith can and will immediately be washed away and discarded by going and seeing them live. There IS no tape, of course. Brad Whitford and Joe Perry are playing better guitar than ever. Steven Tyler is playful, happy, and singing all of those impossible high notes. Joey Kramer has a drum groove like no other. And Tom Hamilton has recovered from his cancer, and continues to be the steady anchor to this ship.
Hell, I even loved the fact that both bands made more than a handful of mistakes. Mistakes make music suddenly human for us . . . more accessible, relatable, and hence, that much more perfect, in a way.
I was transformed Wednesday night, back to the '70s. But it wasn't in some dumb 'retro' way; make no mistake: these bands are somehow as current-sounding as anyone right now. No, I was transformed via music, to a time when there were musical heroes and inspiration and greatness.
Wednesday night, I needed to go to Tacoma, and I am so glad that you were all there, too.