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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Aerosmith Bucks Stereotype at Pacific Amphitheatre

August 02, 1993|MIKE BOEHM

COSTA MESA — "It's not about the money" is high on the list of cliches mouthed by rich rockers who like to insist that their motives are pure, not pecuniary.

But few in pop's moneyed elite would go so far as to saunter on stage, as Aerosmith's Steven Tyler did Saturday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, wearing a red shirt sporting a slogan that's pure Bolshy.

"Eat the Rich," it said. And "Eat the Rich" is what Tyler howled, over and over, during Aerosmith's show-opening song of the same name.

Puzzling words, coming from a lavishly successful band that knows not only where its next paycheck is coming from, but what the amount will be (more than $30 million, in a ballyhooed contract with Sony Music that doesn't even kick in until after Aerosmith delivers one more album to its current label, Geffen).

There's evidence that Aerosmith is feeling a little unsettled by all that money in its bank. The band's current album, "Get a Grip," sounds like the work of rockers trying hard not to be pegged as complacent, middle-aged fat cats. On much of the record, Aerosmith holds its trademark boisterous hedonism in check, while summoning a tone of resentment and defiance--the not-so-sweet emotions that are the currency of Metallica, Nirvana, Guns N' Roses and other signature hard-rock bands of the gloomy '90s.

But even with Tyler wearing his rich-guy contradictions on his chest, money quickly ceased to be an issue at the packed Pacific. The entire band was in splendid form in a two-hour set flawed only by a bottom-heavy sound mix that frequently intruded on Tyler's singing.

The show presented a perfect blend of old and new. Virtually all the prime hits from Aerosmith's rise in the '70s were there, none of them sounding shopworn, and a couple extended with exuberant jams. Seven songs hailed from "Permanent Vacation" and "Pump," the late-'80s albums that gave a cleaned-up Aerosmith a second life after years of drug-related doldrums. Of the six songs taken from "Get a Grip," only the ballad "Cryin'," with its indelible hook, could match Aerosmith's prime stuff in terms of melodic appeal. But virtually all of the new material rocked sufficiently hard to avoid any lulls.

Tyler, at 45, is still up to the same old song and dance as one of rock's most colorful and capable front men. Rather than dominating the band, Tyler's antics seemed a natural, unforced response to the playing of lead guitarist Joe Perry and a superb rhythm section.

It's impossible to say whether Aerosmith will sell enough records in its middle age to be worth $30 million of Sony's money. But it's a safe bet that, on concert nights, the band will be worth $25 or $30 of a hard-rock fan's cash for a good while to come.

Aerosmith appears at the Forum on Wednesday.

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