Steven Tyler might be the only frontman in history who can hit the stage in a shirt emblazoned with the cartoon rendition of his own face without sacrificing an ounce of hard-rocking gravitas.
That’s exactly what he did on Saturday night (April 6) for the very first performance of Deuces Are Wild, Aerosmith‘s new Las Vegas residency that has the Boston rock veterans blasting through their greatest hits while re-tracing the steps of their journey to rock legend status.
Before the band took the stage at the Park MGM’s Park Theater, a trip down memory lane was projected on the eight towering screens over the stage. Tons of never-before-seen photos of the guys as babies and awkward teenagers were peppered throughout numerous concert reels, TV spots and interviews in a pre-show presentation put together by Oscar- and Emmy-winning visual effects studio Pixomondo. One of the featured clips is Aerosmith’s cameo in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons, and Tyler chose to sport a tee bearing the Simpsonified versions of himself and his bandmates for their first night of the run.
(He shared a goofy video of himself warming up for the show, sans-tee, in the hours before the performance.)
Dancers and mischief-makers twirled and scuttled through the aisles while the archival footage rolled. Their carnival-worthy costumes were surreal and inspired by the band’s most memorable album covers, so the cat from Nine Lives wound up getting chased by tipsy concert-goers in the stands as the platinum-skinned, robotic Marilyn Monroe-esque figure of Just Press Play popped and locked by the VIP section on stage.
Any Aerosmith production will bank on the quintet’s ability to raise a little hell while blasting through their catalog, but Deuces Are Wild goes the extra mile to give those who made the effort to come to Sin City something more than the typical tour show. The set list is comprehensive and career-spanning, and checks all boxes for dedicated fans: “Sweet Emotion” and its sternum-massaging bass line makes it in, as do the ’70s epics (like “Dream On,” which had Tyler climbing on top of a piano after playing it, and “Kings and Queens”), ’80s scorchers (“Love in an Elevator;” “Dude Looks Like a Lady”) and ’90s bangers (from Get A Grip‘s “Cryin'” to Armaggeddon power ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”).
Aerosmith clearly wanted to have as much fun as possible with Deuces Are Wild and (literally!) toy with the loftiest expectations fans may have for their run. Later in the show, giant inflatable teddy bears, baby dolls and other creepy playthings descended from the ceiling during “Toys in the Attic.” With its eccentric visuals and surprising touches, Aerosmith’s production crew — helmed by director Amy Tinkham and producer Steve Dixon — squeezed every last drop of potential out of their new, part-time home at the Park MGM and put serious distance between the mundanities of the outside world and the loud, loopy one of Aerosmith’s own creation.
And though Las Vegas may provide a brief escape from reality for visitors, an update on 1993’s protest anthem “Livin’ on the Edge” snapped the audience back to reality with a crucial update. The track was originally inspired by the riots that roared through Los Angeles in the wake of the LAPD’s assault on Rodney King in 1992, but its lyrics apply to environmental and humanitarian crises across time — and especially relevant issues in 2019. The visuals Aerosmith provided during the performance of “Livin’ on the Edge” brought the blistering cautionary tale into the present by showing various calamities on the screens throughout the track, from a child playing with a toy gun to melting glaciers and devastating wildfires.
Tyler was in top form throughout, and “Livin’ on the Edge” was smack in the middle of a hat trick that started with “Cryin’” — complete with scenes from the iconic music video starring a then-unknown Alicia Silverstone — and closed with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” A string quartet joined Aerosmith for the smash — which scored them their first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in 1998 — as did the vast majority of the Park Theater on the epic chorus.
Other highlights included every Toxic Twins spotlight, but especially the moments where it was just Tyler and Perry trading blues riffs on the harmonica and guitar. “Hangman Jury,” off 1987’s Permanent Vacation, was a perfect showcase of their dynamic, and the two continued to play musical tag throughout the evening as they often strut in tandem — more of an instinct for the pair than choreography at this point.
By the time they rolled through the run of hits anchoring the latter half of the set, it was clear that the strength of Deuces Are Wild lies in its intimacy: Aerosmith has long since outgrown the confines of venues the size of the Park Theater, and to hear these monstrous riffs in close quarters makes for a maximalist treat. The full-throttle closer of “Walk This Way” — which had Tyler and Perry strolling up a catwalk hoisted over the center of the audience with their instruments in tow — makes for a deafening romp in arenas and ampitheatres. In Vegas, it was a straight-up stunner in a venue where the crowd can literally reach out and touch Tyler as he hauls his scarf-trailing mic stand on another lap around the joint.
Aerosmith’s Deuces Are Wild opening night set list:
1. “Train Kept A-Rollin’”
2. “Mama Kin”
3. “Back in the Saddle”
4. “Kings And Queens”
5. “Sweet Emotion”
6. “Hangman Jury”
7. “Seasons of Wither”
8. “Stop Messin’ Around”
10. “Livin’ on the Edge”
11. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
12. “Love in an Elevator”
13. “Toys In the Attic”
14. “Dude Looks Like a Lady”
15. “Dream On”
16. “Walk This Way”