Aerosmith and ZZ Top Prove They’re Real Guitar Heroes at Cricket Wireless Pavilion

Categories:  Aerosmith

Phoenix New Times, AZ
July 28, 2009

A funny thing has happened to the recording industry lately. Video games have begun to influence to music sales. Don’t believe me? Consider that the re-release of the entire Beatle Catalogue is scheduled for the exact same day as the release of The Beatles Rock Band, a music simulation game featuring The Beatles music and instrument-shaped controllers. Consider also the latest tour from the fab fivesome, Aerosmith, is presented by Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, a similar music simulation video game featuring classic rock.

No doubt the thought of video games driving music sales seems as unsavory on the surface to you as it did to me. Rest assured that any unease I felt about watching a concert presented by a video game was squelched during Aerosmith’s encore performance in which Joe Perry squared off against a virtual representation of himself from Guitar Hero: Aerosmith in a guitar solo duel. Virtual Perry struck first sending a blistering stream of notes into the air at Cricket Wireless Pavilion. Real Perry sent a down-and-dirty riff back. The two traded riffs of brilliant technicality back and forth until the genuine article ended the sortie by blowing his virtual counterpart to bits.

“Every once in a while, someone comes up and tells me they beat me [in the game] and we have a good laugh,” Perry crooned through a mic. “Well what’s better? The live thing or that thing?” A roaring applause was all the answer he needed.

But don’t knock the games just yet. At the very least they’ve sparked a renewed interest in classic rock. You remember classic rock, don’t you? It harkens back to a distant time when men worked on cars, set things on fire and could score chicks just by being sharply-dressed.

Nothing exemplifies the classic rock spirit more than living legends ZZ Top. As Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard belted out “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Tush,” and “Sharp-Dressed Man,” screens behind them bombarded the audience with images of hot chicks and hot rods. Hell, the trio even layed down a cover of “Foxy Lady.”

For a band that got its start in 1969, you’d expect ZZ Top to show more of their age. Sure, their dance moves boiled down to toe-tappin’, but other than that they proved they have remained consummate performers with each muddy guitar solo and each instance of southern-accented vocals. Maybe it’s the beards, but their age just makes them seem wiser. They’re like a couple of uncles who’ll teach you how to get high and give you advice on getting laid pulled from 40 years of experience and sweaty, blues licks. Now listen here, boy.

But if you’re going to take love advice, it might as well be from an aging rock star who will still straddle a sound monitor like he’s laying down with a fine woman. It was one of the only stunts Steven Tyler pulled that approached anything resembling physical exertion. I guess age isn’t such a burden if you can still do the moves that matter.

To show that they weren’t playing around. Aerosmith left their Toys in the Attic and played an extended set pulling from their entire library. Aerosmith opened up with “Eat The Rich,” from 1993’s Get A Grip before slide-guitaring their way through “Fallin’ In Love,” “Rag Doll,” “Dream On,” “Home Sweet Home,” “Love In An Elevator,” “Cryin’,” “Livin’ On The Edge,” “Sweet Emotion,” and “Walk This Way” with Tyler altering the lyrics to “just give me some head” instead of “just give me a kiss” on one verse.

Sex-charged and backed by a light show complete with four moving video screens, the performance was flawless with the exception of Tyler’s vocals on “Eat The Rich.” Maybe he needed a warm up or maybe he was just holding back for the rest of the show, but he played it safe on the first song of the night instead of taking on some of those ear-piercing screeches he is known for.

It’s a small nit pick but I draw on it to make a point: there’s not much else to criticize. Aerosmith and ZZ Top have achieved rock legend status in a way that no game player with a plastic guitar can ever hope to match regardless of how many times they’ve taken down a perfect score on Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.” These bands are living legends who can not only still bring down a house after decades of rock stardom, but do it far better than most of the bands who have come after them.

The truth is that Aerosmith doesn’t need a video game (or any excuse for that matter) to go on tour. They’re Aerosmith. As long as Steven Tyler is willing to put on zebra print pants and send a mouth harp solo echoing into the night, you can bet there’ll be a concert pavilion full of fans waiting to hear it.

Of course, I’m sure the money could be worse.

Critic’s Notebook:

Better Than: playing Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Personal Bias: In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that this reporter has a beard. Believe me when I say that my positive comments about ZZ Top’s performance had to do with more than their facial hair.

Random Detail: Aerosmith actually had another game called Revolution X which was initially released in arcades but ported to the SNES and Playstation One. In it you could shoot CDs to destroy just about everything on the screen. Just another advantage of going all digital, I guess.

Further Listening: Aerosmith’s Get A Grip. Ah! Adolescent memories.

By the way: Billy Gibbons joined Aerosmith on stage for a song during their set. I’m sure it’s happened and will happen every night of the tour, but it’s still pretty epic.

One More Thing: Talk is cheap. Shut up and dance.

More photos:  (here).