Music Hall at Fair Park, Dallas
Monday, August 1, 2016
“This ain’t American Idol!” Steven Tyler shouted near the start of his near-sellout show Monday night at the Music Hall at Fair Park. No, Tyler wasn’t here as an occasionally snarky, yet profound television talent judge. Nor was Tyler appearing as the cocksure frontman of Aerosmith, one of the handful of legendary American rock bands to span nearly six decades.
Instead, Tyler stood in front of a gaudily decorated stage and the seven backing musicians that comprise Loving Mary, his crack touring band assembled during and after the making of We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, his recent release and initial foray into country music, a musical world much different than the one he has inhabited for so long. But on Monday night, Tyler made it clear that the two worlds aren’t quite as different as they might appear.
“Country is the new rock 'n' roll,” Tyler proclaimed, on several different occasions, during his nearly 80-minute set. And, if you choose to judge things by the classic metrics of album and ticket sales, as a seasoned artist like Tyler would be prone to do, that statement becomes more than just an enthusiastic piece of stage banter. Purists, aficionados, and traditionalists can argue until the cows come home, but there is no denying the commercial draw of a hot country ticket.
We’re All Somebody's rise to the top of the Billboard charts proves that to be true. Sure, Tyler’s name can be cache enough, but it’s unlikely a collection of him singing pop ballads would hold the same appeal. Johnny Cash might be rolling over in his grave, but the masses are still filling Luke Bryan’s and Thomas Rhett’s bank accounts.
Another factor of Tyler’s country music success lies in his demographic: predominantly white, upper-middle class, middle-aged and prone to still purchase full albums in physical or digital form. In general, it’s much of the same audience that regularly fills Gexa Energy Pavilion for Mega-ticket shows, albeit a little more refined and seasoned. Strikingly, the crowd Monday night also skewed heavily in favor of the females, seemingly proving that despite his physical features being a recurring late-night punchline, Tyler’s still got that sex appeal going strong.
A couple lucky ladies squealed with delight when they caught the attention of his wandering stage eye and he suavely commented on their general loveliness in between songs. Even as he scolded one for overzealously filming with her phone, Tyler oozed charm. “Come on now. Watch with your eyes and not your camera,” he gently admonished, before flipping the charm back on. “It’s okay, though, baby. I still love you!” Ah, Tyler. Still going strong at 68 years young.
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Besides Mick Jagger, it’s difficult to find an aged rocker who can bring the goods like Tyler still can. Remarkably thin and lithe, he cut all his memorable poses with seeming ease: gyrating and shaking his hips in florid fashion through “Walk This Way,” pummeling his microphone stand (adorned, as always, with a multitude of scarves) through the thunderous romp of “What It Takes,” and yelping with glee as he easily hit the requisite high notes of numbers like “Cryin’” and “Dream On.”
Opening the show with “Sweet Emotion” dictated that the night wouldn’t be devoid of Aerosmith classics. What was interesting were the music lessons he provided along the way. Between songs, Tyler spoke at length about his inspirations (a lot of British Invasion, for starters), his initial beginnings and early runs at stardom with Joe Perry and Aerosmith, and his wonderment with kindred spirits like Janis Joplin and the members of Fleetwood Mac. He spoke as if he was gathered around the bar with a couple of friends rather than center stage of a large theater. To further drive home the point, he peppered the setlist with a slew of covers, ranging from a couple of Beatles medleys to a Sly Stone outro to the aforementioned Joplin.
As for the new country material, well, it’s probably safe to say that few in the audience were Instagramming photos of Tyler singing “Love is Your Name,” “Red, White, & You” or any of the several other tracks he performed. The songs themselves are fine. Though a little heavy on melodrama and bombast, they serve as a nice outlet for Tyler to flex some emotion and boogie-woogie swagger.
In fact, this material isn’t exactly a total departure from the Aerosmith oeuvre, which always demanded a great deal of panache and heart-on-the-sleeve rendering to succeed. It’s also not too terribly difficult to imagine Tyler watching countless Idol participants try their hand at big country, and thinking that he could perhaps do the whole genre exercise better himself.
It will be interesting to see how far Tyler takes this project. Whether he morphs back into his newfound niche as a television star, reignites things with Aerosmith, or joins his cronies and makes an album of pop standards, this tour is proving to be a worthwhile detour that may make a country star out of him yet. If that proves to be the case, Tyler and Co. will be booked back out on the marquees of Gexa or the American Airlines Center in no time.