A Little South of Sanity
Ever wonder what an Aerosmith concert is like? If so, A Little South of Sanity, the band's new live double album, will answer any and all of your questions. You won't be surprised. (That's never been one of Aerosmith's objectives.) Here are the legendary band's 23 greatest hits (excluding this year's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing") played as flawlessly as the studio versions, with enough swagger and testosterone to make a bull blush.
During the '80s there wasn't a high-school or college jock who didn't have a worn-down copy of Aerosmith's Greatest Hits. And rightly so: Is there a better way to get psyched up for a football game than cranking "Dream On" or "Sweet Emotion" up to 11? Sanity, culled from Aerosmith's last two world tours (1993 and 1998), is the next generation's version of Greatest Hits and celebrates the 25th anniversary of what is arguably America's definitive rock 'n' roll band.
Frontman Steven Tyler sets the mood by asking (screaming, actually) the presumably teenage audience, "So you like the new shit? You like the old shit? Where were you in '78? Where the fuck were you in '79?" Behind him, the band boils the twisted intro to "Back in the Saddle." When they break into the song's familiar dirty riff, Tyler screams, "Baaaaaaaaack!" like it still is '79. "Back in the Saddle" and the funked-up "Last Child" are two of the hottest tracks on Sanity, both exploiting the dirty dual-guitar work of vibrato masters Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, and developing into true rock jams. The rhythm is kept tight and loud by Tom Hamilton on bass and Joey Kramer on drums.
"Mama Kin" and "Walk This Way" are presented in all their roughed-up blues glory. But the band has another contribution, for better or worse, to rock 'n' roll immortality: the power ballad. Full of simple chord changes and Tyler's slightly masked sexual lyrics, cuts like "Angel," "Cryin'," and "Amazing" are not actually the same song with different words, but they're close. All your guilty listening pleasures come to the fore when Tyler, singing solo, begins "What It Takes" with the line "I used to feel your fire, but now it's cold inside." The rest of the band comes in right on cue, and you can almost see the lighters go up in the smoky arena air.
-- Jonathan Lesser
Of all the bands that emerged out of the Boston area in the late '80s, the Pixies proved the most prophetic, the Lemonheads the dippiest, Throwing Muses the most artfully cryptic, Galaxie 500 the most underappreciated in its time, and Dinosaur Jr the least capable of recapturing the early magic. Not one of these bands still exists in its original form; Tanya Donelley has left whatever lineup Kristin Hersh throws together for her occasionally reformed Muses, while J Mascis essentially goes solo when releasing a record as Dinosaur Jr. Perhaps it's true what they say about the meek, because the only significant band still standing ten years later is Buffalo Tom, the most yeomanlike of the Boston scene's products. Fittingly, the catchiest chorus on the band's new album offers the listener "greetings from the walking wounded."
Since 1989, when its Mascis-produced debut seemed surprisingly subdued for an album on the SST label, Buffalo Tom has charted a middle course between melodic punk and Springsteenesque stadium rock. Not that the band's actually been playing arenas or lured commercial radio with one of their hooky tunes (such as the chiming "Rachael" or the driving "Do You In"). Unlike the bands mentioned above, Buffalo Tom's members (Bill Janovitz on guitar, Chris Colbourn on bass, Tom Maginnis on drums) have never enjoyed commercial success, despite their unlikely recent signing to megamajor Polydor. "All I ask of you is send me a postcard when you get there," Janovitz begs of a friend in the refrain on "Postcard." He may as well be speaking to peers who've left his band behind.
The 12 songs on Smitten took a lot longer to record than the band's last release, the unjustly ignored Sleepy Eyed (1995), but you'd never know it; other than a sweetening of the harmonies between the growly Janovitz and his alto counterpart Colbourn, the sounds on the new album emulate the band's focused live shows as closely as possible. Through five albums, Buffalo Tom's songs have grown slower, more deliberate. (Only the frenetic, drum-driven "White Paint Morning" reveals punk roots.) But slower tempos don't signify a compromise; they convey the languid pace of reflection under mental duress.
Smitten -- like the band's other records -- is memorable not for its bleak surveying of human relationships but for the durable compatibility of Janovitz, Colbourn, and Maginnis. As close friends who formed a band for all the right reasons at UMass more than a decade ago, they comprise one of the few bands that have both grown to maturity and maintained their support systems. In that respect Smitten is inspirational in the best sense.
-- Mark Rosen