The Joe Perry Project did something pretty uncommon when the guitar great and his experienced band rocked NYC’s Webster Hall. Turns out this move is not so rare for these guys, but it was a cool twist if you were expecting the usual setlist formula. Halfway into the show, they got into such a groove that Perry decided to play “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll” (a Billy Lee Riley cover) twice through, back to back. The first kickass run had not been marred in any perceptible way that required redoing, and it’s not as if they pursued a different style the second time. Perry just said with a wide smile, “And that’s the way they used to do it back in 1955, so, you know what? This is a guilty pleasure of mine and I love that fuckin’ song. So if you’ll bear with me, I’d love to play it again. What do you think? Listen, I heard a few ‘no’s out there, but you know what? No? Yes?” With or without permission, they started it over, cooking up an even spicier version of the rockabilly ditty. That’s the kind of energy this group was vibing on during their bash of a show. Approving ‘yeah!’s abounded around the room during their twenty-one song marathon – seven of which were Aerosmith originals, including the singalong-triggering encore of “Lightning Strikes” and “Walk This Way.” In a first-time debut for The JPP, they also dedicated a tribute to Perry’s friend, late legend Jeff Beck, presenting a moving cover of “Beck’s Bolero.”
The uniquely fun crowd that had rolled up for The Joe Perry Project could have starred in a mail-order catalog of majestic mullets, bandanas, and every format of biker jacket – including those intimidating leather trench coats that fall way below the knee. Even though they were predominantly in the realm of Perry’s age (72, unbelievably), they hoisted their phones aloft with next-gen precision. It was Black Mirror–level trippy to watch so many silver-haired fans resist the urge to clap or sip their beers so as not to spoil their clips, especially as the sonic thrills kept hitting. They were intent upon capturing optimal videos and streams boasting their proximity to the right side of the stage. And no one could really judge, because Perry’s nimble licks and ripping solos seemed extra unpredictable and very much worth recording. More than a few fans had traveled in from other states and Boston accents could be detected in the pre-show chatter. Longtime Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas, who also produced The JPP’s 1980 debut album, Let the Music Do the Talking, was reportedly in attendance too.
Frontman Gary Cherone (Extreme, Van Halen) embodied the theatrical concert magic of another era. Every move he made appeared natural and ingrained. It takes years of practice to swing the mic stand around to your shoulder blades and drape your arms over it like a crucifix, all in one smooth motion. The phones that had been held so squarely in place to focus on Joe Perry ended up, remarkably, swiveling back and forth as Cherone sang with real blues rock power, jumped up onto the drum riser, and did literal backbends below it. Aerosmith keyboardist and backing singer Buck Johnson was equally awesome to watch as he pushed those crucial and colorful layers to the surface of each impact. Their beat-psychic rhythm section, drummer Jason Sutter (Cher, Chris Cornell, and many more) and bassist David Hull (the substitute bass player for Aerosmith during three of their world tours), constantly kept the tempo on the tip of its toes. Their funky precision pushed everyone’s contributions into a sharply interlocking state. The grins across the group suggested a playfully-competitive kind of live camaraderie.
While there was plenty of Aerosmith in the mix, it’s clear that Perry enjoys whipping out less-mainstream stuff. Most of those covers were deep cuts that one might only know if they’ve spun their records in full a whole lot. After the knockout na-na-nas of Aerosmith banger “Lick and a Promise,” Joe Perry remarked mischievously, “I love that song. I wish my other band would play it once in a while,” prompting laughter. “Yeah, I can talk about Aerosmith,” Perry said with amused emphasis when fans aimlessly shouted out his other band’s name. “I can’t shut up about Aerosmith.” Even though many attendees were likely awaiting more classic radio hits, they looked just as psyched about the heavy new solo-Perry songs – “Aye Aye Aye,” “Fortunate One,” and “Quake,” from his forthcoming record, Sweetzerland Manifesto MKII, out May 26th. Perry’s rebellious sense of humor and realness carried a warmth that stuck with you long after the show. In response to the many shouted requests for old chart-toppers, he professed with comic ambiguity, “You know what? If I remembered it, I would play it for ya.” It was a humble wink of a reply, because with those insane chops, surely every song he’s ever known is still at the ready right under his fingers.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley