The new (well it’s been out for a while but it’s been a busy summer) box set from the folks at the Magic Bus label is something that has been rumored for some time and had many collectors, myself included, salivating at the mere thought. Yes, hard rock fans, the first unofficial box set of Aerosmith material. For me as a young rock fan, I was always drawn to live albums, KISS Alive!, Rush All The World’s A Stage, Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo, AC/DC’s If You Want Blood, and perhaps my favorite, UFO’s Strangers In The Night were all “gateway drugs” if you will. If the band passed the mustard, the studio records would follow. Eventually my love for all things hard rock brought me to Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg and for whatever reason it just never clicked although it remained in my collection on cassette for sometime. After having seen a few Aerosmith concerts, I knew they were a hell of a live band but Live Bootleg never did it for me, nor did the Classics Live volumes. I knew there had to be better out there, several of these live shows were where I found out that the legend was true. My Aerosmith collection is quite modest, this box set is just what I needed to flesh it out, so to speak.
Let’s take a look at what this set offers, first off we have 8 discs covering a four year period, two discs for each year. One can hear the evolution of a band that was a great live band working to translate their talent and vision to larger and larger audiences. Secondly the label elected to go with excellent source material, either radio broadcasts, soundboard recordings or great audience sources, what better way to hear Aerosmith than loud, in fact their music demands it! Lastly is the superior presentation we have come to expect from Magic Bus. From the pictures used for the covers, the comic book art style CD pictures to the lavish 28 page booklet with detailed liner notes, track listing and personnel all housed in their trademark long box style. Visual presentation is only part of it, this box set delivers a wealth of material with audio quality that at the least rivals the best versions available, in most cases exceeds it and delivers definitive sound in one volume.
Paul’s Mall, Boston, Massachusetts – April 23, 1973
Disc 1 (49:44) Announcements / Make It, One Way Street, Somebody, Write Me A Letter, I Ain’t Got You, Mother Popcorn, Movin’ Out, Walkin’ The Dog, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Mama Kin
One of the earliest, if not the earliest live documents of Aerosmith is from a broadcast of their performance at Boston’s Paul’s Mall club. Like many of their contemporaries, broadcasting live performances was a way to get the word out on the street, and this performance was originally sent out on WBCN-FM and various versions of the tape would be released as Hot Popcorn (Mongoose MONGCD015), Boston 1973 (Darkside Productions DP-00-11), and Club Gigs 1973-1974 (Zodiac 008). Some enterprising fan hunted down a broadcast version of the concert and found it contained the opening song, Make It and made a composite of the best sounding versions of both tapes to provide a complete show, this was eventually released as Boston 1973 (Zodiac 236). Perhaps the greatest testament to this recording is the fact that the band used I Ain’t Got You and Mother Popcorn on their own Live Bootleg record.
The sound, save for Make It, is excellent and has a near perfect balance as one would expect, Joe seems a little low in the mix. Make It is in the very good range, it is clear yet sounds like it was from a very old tape as there is some phasing at the beginning and is from a different broadcast. When compared to the Zodiac title Club Gigs 1973-1974, I find that the sound levels are not as loud and are less shrill when played loud. The performance is very good, the band plays the entire debut record, save Dream On, and two songs usually not in their live sets, Calvin Carter’s I Ain’t Got You done Yardbirds style and James Brown’s Mother Popcorn (featuring Steven Tyler’s incredible white James Brown vocal!). I like the early version of Train Kept A Rollin, not as flushed out as the 74 versions, but still quite effective as the band were taking their British hard rock and blues influences and making them American.
Counterparts Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio – September 26, 1973
Disc 2 (63:21) Announcements, Make It, Somebody, Write Me A Letter, Band Introduction & Sound Adjustment, Dream On, One Way Street, Walkin’ The Dog, Announcer Talk, Pandora’s Box, Rattlesnake Shake, Announcer Talk, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Mama Kin, Closing Credits
Where the first disc was recorded in a club setting, this concert was done live in the studio in front of a small audience then broadcast on the radio. Counterparts Studio was a single room studio in a remodeled 1930’s home that featured a 16 track board and primarily catered to more local musicians with Aerosmith and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia being the most famous people to do the live broadcast thing. This recording has circulated for some time dating back to vinyl as Rattlesnake Shake (AS 1974) and its reissue Rattlesnake Shake (LXXIV Series 18), on compact disc it has only one title, Counterpart Studios 1973 (Shades 461).
The sound is excellent, the balance is better than the Paul’s Mall tape, all the instruments are well balanced and Joe is nicely in the mix making for a more effective listening experience. When compared to the Shades title, I find the sound to be most similar with both sounding really good when turned up, and as stated in Classicrawker’s excellent review of the Shades title, you get to hear the between commercial banter like Steven Tyler telling the engineer about the mix. Again the focus is on tracks from the first album, playing most of it save for Movin’ Out plus a take on Fleetwood Mac’s Rattlesnake Shake and an early version of Pandora’s Box. What really impresses me about these early tapes is that while the band is playing very basic rock and gelling as a live unit, honing their skills as a live band, singer Steven Tyler’s command of his voice and place as front man who can sing rock, blues, and funk without skipping a beat shows he already has the chops needed.
Michigan Palace, Detroit, Michigan – April 7, 1974
Disc 3 (79:36) Announcements, Write Me A Letter, Mama Kin, Lord Of The Thighs, Woman Of The World, Dream On, Pandora’s Box, Same Old Song And Dance, One Way Street, Somebody, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Encore Break # 1, Walkin’ The Dog, Encore Break # 2, Milk Cow Blues
The recording from the Michigan Palace in April of 1974 is one of the more widely circulated Aerosmith recordings in the unofficial cannon. The source is another live radio broadcast, it has seen numerous releases, Aerosmith Live (AMCOS SW48), Erotic Dreams (Swingin Pig Records), Laid Back? Fuck Off Baby!! (Polar Bear PB-101), Live (D.V.More Records CD DV 5863), One Way Street (Alegra CD 9048), and One Way Street (Great Dane Records GDR 9025), then as part of compilations sets Sweet Emotions (Viva CCD 7520) and With Or Without Plugs (Bang 001).
The recording is excellent but since it’s a broadcast it is not as clean as the shows on the 1973 set, all instruments are clearly heard and well balanced yet the recording is just a touch fuzzy as one would expect. I was surprised at how well the old Great Dane title holds up, that being said this Magic Bus version is clearly superior with much improved frequencies and clarity. The GD is a bit shrill while this is warm and inviting and sounds much better the louder it goes. This is a famous concert in the history of Detroit Rock concerts, the bill was staggering, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and KISS were the opening acts, the KISS set from that night circulates as well and like this Aerosmith recording, is essential listening. This was the second time KISS opened for Aerosmith and there was a bit more than friendly rivalry between the two bands, the tension was high backstage and an altercation between the two bands road crews escalated to a fever pitch with weapons drawn! When you have two up and coming bands on the same bill, both that are extremely competitive, the audiences are the winners as both bands hold back nothing.
The concert finds the band integrating music from the second record, Get Your Wings, into the set list. Lord Of The Thighs is devastating, the band are very tight and the difference one year made in their live sound is astonishing, a great raunchy sound on the guitars and playing with a swagger not found on the 1973 recordings. Tyler asks the crowd if their butts hurt from sitting around waiting for them, funny comment since the opening bands certainly got the crowd out of their seat! The band has trouble keeping their guitars in tune, long pauses between songs find the band having to explain, Joe Perry tells them they do not want to hurt their ears with wrong notes, the band does gain some serious momentum starting with a long jam on One Way Street complete with talk box section, a satisfying finish to the concert.
My Father’s Place, Roslyn, New York – July 2, 1974
Disc 4 (45:55) Write Me A Letter, S.O.S. (Too Bad), Lord Of The Thighs, Dream On, Same Old Song And Dance, Woman Of The World, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Encore Break, Walkin’ The Dog
The second disc of the 1974 set is the recording from My Father’s Place, the famous Long Island rock club that would feature many of the bands’ performances at the venue on radio station WLIR FM. The quality of the recording is excellent, so needless to say there have been many titles featuring this material, first on vinyl as Live Bootleg Vol. 2 (Ironic Records AC 010399), Live Bootleg Vol. 2 (Aaron Records AC018399) and on CD as Live Bootleg Vol. 2 (Ironic Records IRONIC 005), My Fathers Place (Mongoose Records MONG CD003), Live In Concert (Star Box MT CD 110 4039), Live In Concert (Top Sound TS-CD 010), Tracks From The Attic (SL-CD 006) and most recently on Club Gigs 1973-1974 (Zodiac 008).
I compared this to the Zodiac title, the sound has a fuller range of frequencies, the top end does not distort as bad as Zodiac and is less harsh sounding and is a nice improvement over that titles sound. This performance is excellent, the band blazes through their set and bring the house down, no guitars going out of tune here. To me this concert makes the Detroit 74 show sound lethargic at times, obviously the band hits their stride very early on. Not much needs to be said about this recording, put it on your player, turn it up and get ready to rock your @$$ off, it’s that good.
Schaeffer Music Festival, Wollman Skating Rink, Central Park, New York City – August 29, 1975
Disc 5 (63:51) Announcements, Walkin’ The Dog, S.O.S. (Too Bad), Somebody, Big Ten Inch Record, Sweet Emotion, Dream On, Write Me A Letter, Walk This Way, No More No More, Same Old Song And Dance, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Encore Break, Toys In The Attic
The 1975 gig in Central Park is a famous one, for good reason, first and foremost is the recording. The concert was recorded by the King Biscuit Flower Hour (KBFH) so the quality is excellent, if anything the audience is a bit low in the mix, otherwise the balance is near perfection. Secondly the band is at the height of the 70’s power as a live act, their records and live playing is superb and for me, it gets no better than this (although the My Father’s Place gig is right there as well).
Needless to say there has been a plethora of releases from this show, on vinyl as Rock This Way (TKRWM 1812) and Look Homeward Angel (ZAP 7868), on CD as The Increasingly Killer Show (Oh Boy 1-9101), Boston Stranglers (Beech Martin 021/2), Mad, Bad And Dangerous (Lobster Records CD027), From The Attic of ’75 (Polar Bear PB-073), Live In The USA Vol. 3 (Imtrat IMM 40.90177), S.O.S. NY (Flying Cat FLC001), Young Lust (Living Legend LLRCD 084), Live Emotions (Main Event Records ME-020), and Central Park ’75 Master (No Label).
For this review I am using the Central Park ’75 Master No Label release for comparison, both are excellent with this new version getting the nod, it has better bass, is a touch louder without being compressed and just sounds better in my car and home. Aerosmith puts on an incredible performance, the band is very tight and the synchronicity is perfect, even the piano of Scott Kushi sounds ok, thankfully his contributions are minimal. The set list is as good as it gets, a great mix of music from their first three records, there is not a dud in the set. The title of this box set comes from the announcer who introduces the band “Good evening New York City…Are you ready to Rock?…Alright let’s all get together and give a warm welcome to The Boys From Boston…Ladies and Gentlemen Aerosmith”. Highlights, there is 64 minutes of them.
Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri – September 18, 1975
Disc 6 (58:09) Walkin’ The Dog, S.O.S. (Too Bad), Somebody, Big Ten Inch Record, Sweet Emotion, Dream On, Write Me A Letter, Walk This Way, No More No More, Same Old Song And Dance, The Train Kept A Rollin’
Just a few short weeks after the Central Park triumph, the band are playing in St Louis and there exists a soundboard recording of the majority of the concert, if you base the set list of that show only the encore(s) is missing. There has only been one complete version of this recording, 1974 (Mistral Records MM9109), and a couple songs were filler on From The Attic of ’75 (Polar Bear PB-073). The recording is a soundboard and while being excellent, has balance issues, the guitars and bass are lower in the mix and depending on who is playing lead may get louder or not. The drums are loud at the beginning and Steven’s vocals are dominant in the mix, once you turn this up, your ears adjust, mine did.
I used the 1974 title for comparison, and again both are very similar in sound, the Mistral title is a bit louder, this new title has lower sound, fuller frequencies and also has proper song cues where the older title has several songs as one track. Where the Central Park performance features the band in The Big Apple with its musical press and recording for radio and playing very tight and professional, this gig in St Louis finds the band free from those constraints and really having fun. The playing is a bit looser but not sloppy by any means. This is Aerosmith at a peak as far as being a touring unit in the 70’s, you can hear the enjoyment in the playing, from the lead trading by Whitford and Perry to Steven’s flubbing a few lines here and changing some of the lyrics there, and like the Central Park gig just a great performance.
Disc 7 (75:33) “Rocks” Sessions Wherehouse, Waltham, Massachusetts – February / March 1976: Nobody’s Fault, Rats In The Cellar, Home Tonight, Last Child, Back In The Saddle, Combination, Get The Lead Out, Lick And A Promise. Civic Center, Peoria, Illinois – July 15, 1976: Introduction & Announcements, Mama Kin, Write Me A Letter, S.O.S. (Too Bad), Lick And A Promise, Big Ten Inch Record, Sweet Emotion, Rats In The Cellar, Dream On, Lord Of The Thighs
The Rocks sessions showed up on the collectors market close to two years ago thanks to the folks from Zodiac, whose title Rocks Sessions (Zodiac 079) was released in autumn 2014. Credited to the Aerosmith Wherehouse in Waltham, Massachusetts (I have seen it credited to the Record Plant in NYC), the band’s home base where much of the music was written and rehearsed. The vibes were so good they decided to, in the words of Brad Whitford “back the Record Plant’s mobile unit into our Wherehouse and just let it fly”. So good were the perfect combination of drugs, energy, and musical synergy that the magical creative juices poured from the five musicians.
The recording is a soundboard source, it is excellent but a bit flat, certainly not from a master tape but perhaps a cassette that one of the band members used to hear how it sounded at home or in a car, or to possibly even begin working on lyrics…who knows. The recording features 8 of the 9 songs, only Sick As A Dog is not represented and what is here are the songs in varying degrees of completion, none of them have vocals so they are all instrumental and some would even get more overdubs, but they sound close to the final thing. When compared to the Zodiac title, the Zodiac does sound louder but that is the only real difference, what that means for me is I can turn my stereo up louder with not as much distortion, to my ear the frequencies sound very similar.
The filler on the disc is a fragment of a concert from Peoria, Illinois midway through the American leg of the ROCKS tour. The fragment has only been booted before on an old and very rare vinyl title Stamp (no company or matrix), supposedly there were only 25 copies pressed. The 43 minute fragment is a good to very good audience source, it’s a bit distant but clear with the instruments and vocals discernable with the expected bit of distortion but that only accentuates the sound, it captures the atmosphere inside the Civic Center quite well. The performance is really good, the set list relys on material from the first three records with just two songs from ROCKS. Its really interesting to here basic riff songs like Mama Kin and Write Me A Letter three years after their release on the debut, they are played with swagger and sound so full, as if they were on their newest record.
Stadthalle, Offenbach, Germany – October 26, 1976
Disc 8 (69:08) Introduction & Announcements, Mama Kin, Write Me A Letter, S.O.S. (Too Bad), Lick And A Promise, Big Ten Inch Record, Sweet Emotion, Rats In The Cellar, Dream On, Lord Of The Thighs, Last Child, Walk This Way, Sick As A Dog, Same Old Song And Dance, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Toys In The Attic
The last disc on the set is a recording from Aerosmith’s first European tour in support of Rocks. The tour was less than a month long beginning October 13 in Liverpool and ending November 1 in Paris, France. Like KISS who earlier in 1976 had done their first European tour, Aerosmith found that while they were the “It” band in America, that did not translate to credibility with European rock fans. Like KISS, Aerosmith had been bread on the classic British hard rock legends like Clapton, The Who and Led Zeppelin, but their sound was purely American. It did not help that the tour took place in a rainy season and some of their outdoor gigs were quite muddy, and save for a handful of dates in Germany and Switzerland in 1977, the band would not return for well over a decade.
The recording featured here is the third of four concerts played in Germany and is a very good audience recording, clear and well balanced all instruments and vocals are clearly heard and for better or worse the atmosphere is captured. The recording has one previous release, Offenbach Rocks (Shout To The Top STTP 121) and when compared to that title this Magic Bus title has not been amplified as much, a trademark of the STTP label, and is clearer and less distorted sounding, albeit warmer sounding as well and another nice upgrade. The recording has several cuts, the end of Lick And A Promise is cut off and Lord Of The Thighs fades near the end. Last Child cuts out near the end and the encore cheering and lead in to Toys is missing, Magic Bus did an excellent job with the cuts and fades, all are smooth and well handled.
The performance itself is great, the band plow through their set with abandon, the audience is stiff and pretty subdued throughout making for a not very lively atmosphere, but makes for a clear recording. It does sound that the audience is not completely dead, you can hear some faint clapping during Same Old Song And Dance, the relentless rock and roll seems to have awaked them as the band deliver a blistering version of Train Kept A Rollin’, the audience even sings the “all night long” parts. Joey Kramer, love you man but I do not miss the drum solo during Train, it seem to stop the momentum, this drum solo-less version is really good, Joe P wrings the hell out of that Fender! What is most interesting in listening to this concert several times is that the band start off playing well and build momentum with every song, even when the punters are quiet, the band seem to be really enjoying themselves. Damn, two weeks of non stop listening and there is only one question left, is this set worth the investment? The answer is a resounding yes, this box delivers on all fronts, retire your old copies of these shows, this box set is the definitive word on 70’s Aerosmith.