You know things are gonna rule when a bottle of booze of unknown origin mysteriously arrives just in time to pre-game an arena show — The Spin was drinking booze, booze, booze in the office. It was certainly the most professional way we could think of to prepare for Aerosmith Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. The Spin was of two minds about attending the show: One mind was definitely making a convincing case that this could be the biggest shit show of the year, and the other mind was willing to concede the possibility that this could be a monster embarrassment — basically the shadowing of Idol was looming over us, and it was terrifying.
The Spin arrived just in time to see Cheap Trick: 7:30 p.m. on the dot in a very un-Spinlike display of punctuality. So of course there was a foul-up at will-call, forcing us to miss the first few songs. Which is fine, because the same thing happened to italicized-Nashville's own Charles "Chip" Esten — you know, the dude who used to play guitar for Rayna Jaymes — which seemed like a super-zeitgeist way to close out our year. It was all very unitalicized-Nashville. But wait, what were we talking about?
Oh yeah, Cheap Trick. Luckily, we made our way inside the near-capacity hockey cavern in time to hear the band bust out a stellar "Southern Girls." ... Or at least we kind of heard it. Unfortunately for Rockford, Ill.'s finest, they rock so fucking hard that Boston's "finest" could only compete by giving the openers partial use of the PA, or so it seemed. The mix was so quiet and muffled it sounded as if we'd stuffed our ears with marshmallows, then stuffed the marshmallows with ear buds plugged into an iPod playing at a low volume. That's no way to hear power-pop classics like "I Want You To Want Me," "Dream Police" and "Surrender" — a timeless, hook-replete trifecta for the ages that closed the band's all-too-short set. Consummate singer Robin Zander — who was garbed head to toe in cream-colored Dream Policeman regalia — sounded so phenomenal that he could've crooned Aerosmith's "Angel" and we wouldn't have minded.
So by this point, our good buddy Gerst had annihilated The Spin's apprehension. Sure, the last, um, 15 years of Aerosmith's career have been a continuing string of embarrassing shenanigans, but our buzz was strong, and those sorts of things are easy to forget when motherfuckin' Aerosmith kicks their set off with "Toys in the Attic." It was a fitting opener to what could be (albeit unlikely) the band's last show ever. The new record flopped, rumors of inner-band tension are abounding (as always), and Nashville was the final date of the Toxic Twins & Co.'s tragically titled Global Warming Tour — which ironically, at least at press time, traversed only North America. Perhaps that explains why, to The Spin's delight, the band mercifully went light on the power ballads, eschewing mega-hits like "Don't Want To Miss a Thing," "Angel," "Amazing" and "Janie's Got a Gun."
Aerosmith has never been a subtle band: They are performers with an outsized shtick, who are crass on an amazing number of levels, garish in so many regards. It's music made for the arena. It's the lowest common denominator on the biggest possible scale, a spectacle so essentially American and overblown that you can't help but be awed. And then they played "Love in an Elevator," which snapped us back to reality pretty quickly — this wasn't going to be a show for '70s-era die-hards. The set list was pretty well balanced between stone-cold classics and monster pop hits, but mercifully light on the treacly late-century ballads and new songs. Not that we'd necessarily be uninterested in hearing the new songs — Music From Another Dimension is one of Aerosmith's best records in almost two decades — but based on the sales numbers we've seen, we're part of a tiny group of folks who actually listened to the thing. They also played a viscous, pummeling version of "Rats in the Cellar" from Rocks, which was enough to fulfill our nerdly jones.
While nuggets like "Movin' Out" and Aerosmith's cover of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" were great, bristling with the sort of energy we'd been hoping against hope for, "Cryin' " and "Livin' on the Edge" are just as groan-worthy now as they were during our grunge days. But people loved 'em! And The Spin will concede that while we might not really need to hear "Love in an Elevator" ever again, it's a much more enjoyable song when thousands of people are freaking out. Like the consummate professionals they are, Aerosmith saved the real heaters for the end: "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," which still makes us giggle like when we were in grade school; "Walk This Way," which we can and will argue is one of the most important songs in the history of American music; and the band's definitive cover of "Train Keeps a Rollin' " from Get Your Wings. It was a triple K.O. that had us riled up and left us exhausted. And then they started playing "Dream On" — complete with a ridiculously dressed Tyler seated at a white piano that rose out of the catwalk amid a large plume of neon smoke — for an encore, plus a fist-pumping sing-along to "Sweet Emotion."
The band members appeared enraptured in their own bittersweet emotions as they took their bows, and Joe Perry (who we must note was rocking a GG Allin 'stache) told the crowd the breakup rumors are bogus. But he also ominously stated that this would be the band's last show ... at least for a while.
It's ghetting ghot in ghere
Although we'd heard the scuttlebutt for some time that Fly Golden Eagle and several others would play a show on Dec. 15, the venue remained a big, fat question mark. But word came 'round just a few days prior that the festivities would be held at much-loved East Side wing spot Ghot Wingz. We were also stoked to find that Thunderbitch — that's the new project fronted by Brittney Howard of the recently Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes, playing what may be their only show ever — Natural Child, James Wallace and the Naked Light and Promised Land would round out the bill. Considering the modest size of the chicken joint and the hip-as-they-come lineup, we were fairly certain Ghot Wingz would g(h)et pretty (g)hot and crowded quickly. After all, how many chances does one get to see a Grammy nominee play a set in a Gallatin Pike chicken-wing restaurant?
We turned up early on Saturday night to find friends eating wings and drinking beer and "hunch punch" beneath the warm, angelic buzz of fluorescent light. The bands were to play in the side room, where wood paneling and glowing strands of Christmas lights — but not necessarily the wall-mounted flat-screen TV — gave the whole affair something of a 1970s atmosphere. Perfect for openers Promised Land, whose brand-new Stoned Eagle EP very much reminds us of The Band, Big Star and The Kinks, among others. Live, however, the Land's twangy, dirty tones and sloppy, swinging grooves are most reminiscent of The Byrds and the Burrito Bros., for our money. We expect big things from these youngsters, seeing as how their tunes "Cool Me Down" and "Fuck Cancer" are instant local classics.
Although, socially speaking, James Wallace and his Naked Light seem relatively tight with most of the other outfits on the bill, the band's playful, upbeat folk pop was sort of the sonic outlier of the night. Their whimsical auxiliary percussion, bouncy rhythms, fingerpicked guitar parts and land-line telephone as secondary mic certainly didn't make for the most visceral set we witnessed, but we enjoy the mildly Nilsson-esque big-picture optimism of "Worse Things Have Happened."
With our cup of hunch punch doing the trick (and also beginning to wear the enamel off The Spin's teeth), we particularly enjoyed the sultry, psychedelic garage pop of Fly Golden Eagle. Truth be told, sound in the increasingly muggy confines of Ghot Wingz's side room was a notch below terrible, the PA leaving frontman Ben Trimble's vocals fuzzy and largely indiscernible. But who needs audible vocals when you've got bobbing, bass-driven party jams like "Psyche's Dagger" and the driving, groovy hurricane of tension and release that is "Devil's Eye (Basilisk)"?
Having retreated outside for a breath of fresh air before Thunderbitch's set, we found frontwoman Howard climbing on the back of Promised Land/Naked Light keyboardist Ricardo Alessio's motorcycle. In a cloud of exhaust and badass vibes, the two rolled up the sidewalk to the back entrance of Wingz. We hustled inside to catch the spectacle from the other side, and we must say, Howard knows how to make a goddamn entrance. As a bandmate spray-painted "Thunder Bitch" on a backdrop behind the stage, Howard issued twin blasts from a pair of air horns and approached the mic with a resounding "Everybody feeling a little lightheaded?" Indeed we were, whether it was from the hunch punch or from the combination of paint and exhaust fumes. The 'Bitch — which also features members of Fly Golden Eagle and recent Brooklyn transplants Clear Plastic Masks — commenced a set of blown-out, spacey blooze rock complete with their very own Brian Jonestown Massacre-style tambourine/flair man. Howard & Co.'s tunes definitely aren't revolutionary, insomuch as they feature wild but familiar rock 'n' roll progressions that hearken back to Chuck, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and even further — and not particularly practiced or in-tune renditions, at that. But Howard, who's gifted with an otherworldly howl, knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, and the songs were as loud, messy and party-bolstering as any of us had hoped. A companion compared Thunderbitch to '80s neo-psych outfit Spacemen 3, and we certainly agreed enough to at least mark it down in our notes.
Now, we'd heard that irrepressible rock 'n' rollers Natural Child would be performing as their reggae alter egos Natural Lion, but as they sound-checked and began lazily creeping through a rendition of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It," we realized they were absolutely serious about it. While "Paradise Heights," their reggae original from this year's For the Love of the Game, was totally to be expected, the restless, chatty crowd may or may not have been expecting a true Natural Child set to follow. But no, no. With Andy Kaufman-like commitment, NC transformed themselves from Nashville's best true rock 'n' roll band to Nashville's ... well, maybe not best reggae band (we can't really say), but definitely a stubbornly committed reggae band, at least as far as the chorus of Marley and the Wailers' "Stir It Up" goes. A friend joked that the sleepy "Jammin' " grooves made her want to go home and commence "pajammin'," but we actually really dug Natural Lion's reggae'd-out version of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," complete with "West Jamaica" in place of "West Virginia." Anyway, we heard a shout or two of, "Hey! Do you know any Natural Child songs?!" But the boys were sticking to their guns. Good for them, we suppose. It was fun either way, and a fitting enough ending to a night we hadn't seen coming in the first place.
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