- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

Even though they’re a generation apart, Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz exist in the shadows of the same great classic rock bands. Together at the MCI Center Thursday night, they made a great case study in the art of clinging.

Neither the Boston rockers, who are old enough to seem like dinosaurs but are actually the little brothers of big-bang hard rockers such as Led Zeppelin, nor Mr. Kravitz — who was among the earliest of the 1990s-era retro-rock jet-setters — means particularly much to the contemporary rock scene. Yet both acts remain stubbornly popular — Aerosmith as journeymen road warriors and proud ambassadors of 1970s arena rock bravado, and Mr. Kravitz as a sneakily consistent Top 40 presence.

As much as he’s knocked for slavishly copying his influences, Mr. Kravitz has wrung at least one radio hit per album since his 1989 debut, right up to “Lady” from 2004’s “Baptism.” And Aerosmith, perhaps sensing the sleekness that characterized its ‘90s output had grown to elephantine proportions, hunkered down for last year’s solid set of blues covers, “Honkin’ on Bobo.” (The band is currently touring to promote the live album “Rockin’ the Joint.”)

With short-cropped hair, giant black sunglasses and an aviator scarf, Mr. Kravitz was forced to hobble on a foot cast Thursday and took advantage of a stool for acoustic-driven numbers such as the psych-spiritual “Believe” and the sexy power ballad “Can’t Get You Off My Mind.” His hourlong set was devoted to fan favorites such as the funky Hendrix knockoff “Always on the Run” and modern-rock singles such as “Fly Away,” “Dig In” and the tacky-but-catchy Guess Who cover “American Woman.” Mr. Kravitz played rhythm guitar on some tracks, ceding the spotlight to nest-haired sideman Craig Ross; on others he played the leads himself. As on its recorded version, the repetitively sappy “Again” was rescued by Mr. Kravitz’s screamingly expressive guitar solo.

Mr. Kravitz sermonized a bit before playing the hippy anthem “Let Love Rule” and closed with a rousing “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”

“Don’t you love how the old [stuff] still rocks?” asked Steven Tyler after Aerosmith opened its set with “Walk This Way.” Still relatively fit and frisky at 57, his act a series of highly suggestive sexual semaphores, Mr. Tyler was able to make full use of a stage set that jutted like a long pair of arms into the arena floor and ramped sideways onto platforms that gave the band intimate face time with fans in first-level seats.

Lead guitarist — and, on “Shakin’ My Cage,” lead vocalist — Joe Perry was as comfortable as Mr. Tyler doing rock-star shtick. By night’s end, after a riotous run through “Draw the Line,” Mr. Perry was shirtless (and not a little buff, ladies) and slamming a guitar he’d just chucked on the floor.

Guitarist Brad Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton, meanwhile, looked more than a little awkward the farther they roamed from their marks. It seemed almost as though the two had signed contracts with riders mandating that they lap the stage at least one time apiece. And if he weren’t sitting behind a drum kit for two hours, Joey Kramer, who wore fingerless biker gloves and workout clothes, might have passed for, say, an Interior Department bureaucrat on his way to Gold’s Gym. (Mr. Kramer’s son, Jesse, manned the kit for a pair of songs.)

Aerosmith has always prided itself on being a high-energy live act. Mr. Perry once said he thought the band’s 1987 comeback album “Permanent Vacation” was disappointing in retrospect because it had too much “deadwood” — meaning songs never attempted in concert.

The band has piled up quite a lot of deadwood over the last 15 years, but post-comeback hits such as “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Cryin’” and “Livin’ on the Edge” held up well on Thursday. (The candy-rocker “Jaded,” however, was the runt of the litter.)

Aerosmith played ‘70s nuggets like “Dream On,” “Same Old Song and Dance” and “Sweet Emotion” early in its near two-hour set; songs such as “Ragdoll,” “The Other Side” and “Love in an Elevator,” which came later, were justifiably treated like newish classics that could stand toe-to-toe with beloved obscurities such as “Lord of the Thighs.”

Before taking a final bow, Mr. Tyler thanked the not-quite-sellout audience for making the bad boys of Aerosmith feel like they were 12 years old again.

No doubt, many in the crowd felt a mutual gratitude.

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