Steven Tyler performs with Aerosmith at the Target Center in Minneapolis… (Genevieve Ross, Invision…)
BOSTON — Backstage in Steven Tyler's dressing room at the TD Garden last month, the flamboyant frontman readied for an Aerosmith show in the band's hometown surrounded by family, friends and tie-dyed tapestries he'd hung over the room's cinder-block walls.
Guests and their plus-ones swarmed outside the room; inside a smaller crew circulated, including Bebe Buell, the fashion model with whom Tyler had his movie-star daughter Liv Tyler; Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham; and two Yorkshire terriers named Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
"Butch is the little one," Tyler said, lifting the football-sized dog to his face. "I found them in a boutique in … Chicago? There was so much love." He nuzzled the animal's fur. "When the show's over and the lights were too bright and I sang all [messed up], this right here — this is solace."
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Right now the terriers are pulling their weight. Tyler, 64, has been touring with Aerosmith all summer (they stop Monday night at the Hollywood Bowl), making headlines for his resignation as an "American Idol" judge and gearing up for the release of a new Aerosmith album. Due out Nov. 6, "Music From Another Dimension!" is the band's first set of original songs since "Just Push Play" in 2001; it's also Tyler's first offering since he announced he was vacating his judge's seat next to Jennifer Lopez to rededicate himself to music.
A bottomless well of sweet-but-sleazy wisdom on "Idol," the singer worked his dressing room like the show's cameras were present, gesticulating with his skull-ringed fingers and lifting his billowy shirt at one point for no discernible reason.
"The band has always been my main thing," said Tyler, who begged off talking about "Idol" in more direct terms. "We just had a hiatus. And it wasn't 10 years because we were [messed up]. It was 10 years of being busy getting ready."
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His laser-focused eyes were shooting beams of sincerity. But this year, "60 Minutes" ran a widely discussed segment on Aerosmith in which Tyler's longtime bandmates — lead guitarist Joe Perry, guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer — spoke frankly about their quarrels with the singer over his reported drug use and his decision to join "American Idol."
Tyler claimed he'd agreed to appear on the show only after Aerosmith began searching for a new frontman. "It's basically Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes with three other people involved," Whitford said in Boston of the tumultuous relationship between Tyler and Perry. The guitarist admitted that Aerosmith had tried to begin work on a new album at several points over the last five or six years. "But each time was just a disaster. Typical Aerosmith: There'd be a clash of personalities and we'd go nowhere."
Those personalities seemed to steer clear of each other before showtime at the TD Garden. Speaking quietly in his own dressing room — a dimly lighted library compared with Tyler's — Perry struck a conciliatory note when asked how the singer's television gig affected his job with Aerosmith. "The only thing it did was cut down on scheduling," Perry said, explaining that Tyler recorded most of his vocals for the album at night after taping "Idol." "But I never felt that it impinged on his performance."
Still, he added, "I do think he's going to have a little more energy for Aerosmith now."
Indeed, Tyler shimmied his way through the group's two-hour show like a man half (or perhaps three-quarters) his age, thrusting his pelvis in "Livin' on the Edge" and scaling the sky-high screams in "Dream On," which he performed from atop a white grand piano. The set also included two new songs, "Legendary Child" and "Oh Yeah"; both sounded leaner and more tuneful than one might expect.
The band recruited Jack Douglas, who produced many of Aerosmith's mid-'70s albums, to oversee "Music From Another Dimension!" "I thought he better than anyone could help us go back to where we came from," said Tyler. The album features guest appearances by Carrie Underwood and Johnny Depp as well as songs Tyler co-wrote with Julian Lennon and Marti Frederiksen, who helped shape Aerosmith's last big hit, "Jaded."
Frederiksen said the band had more fun in the studio than he's witnessed in ages. "Put it this way: They came down to my house in Monrovia," he recalled with a laugh. Part of that refreshed esprit de corps, Frederiksen said, actually came as a result of Tyler's doing "American Idol."
"I think it was great for him to just be Steven for a while," he said. "Years ago people used to see him on the street and be like, 'Hey, look, it's Aerosmith!' He became Steven Tyler from the show."
Though Tyler said he's recommitted himself to Aerosmith, he's certainly not detaching from his increased celebrity: He recently bought a house in Laurel Canyon, he said, because he "need[s] to rub noses with people who've experienced over-the-top things." (His new pals include Depp, Jim Carrey and "a bunch of other next-door neighbors I've got," while Chris Rock and David Spade could be seen in Boston pumping their fists at the side of the stage.)
Yet the singer insisted the new Aerosmith album is no superstar vanity project. "We've still got something to prove, believe it or not," he said, shortly before breaking off for a round of pre-show vocal exercises. "When we went into the studio and listened to the finished record, I looked at Joe and said, 'We're back.'"
He grinned slyly. "That really happened."