Review: Aerosmith and more at the Calling Festival

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You have to give credit to Richie Sambora for trying to reconnect with the rock audience from whom Bon Jovi became estranged a long time ago. However, this is a somewhat boring performance. Actually, it was rather dismal.

Opening with a shambolic Lay Your Hands On Me fails to engage the indifferent audience, and things never improve. Sambora is no frontman, and his voice is strained and harsh, while the guitar sound is buried deep in the mix. As for his band, Orianthi appears utterly bored throughout, while the rest of the musicians onstage simply go through the motions.

The polite applause at the supposedly climactic Wanted Dead Or Alive says it all. Sambora has a lot of work to do to come even close to an acceptable solo standard.

By contrast, Thunder are inspired. They own the stage as soon as they tease their way into Dirty Love, and the crowd reaction is huge. Danny Bowes has one of the great voices of this era, and he cajoles and encourages a growing reaction from the gathering thousands.

The Union’s Pete Shoulder stands in seamlessly for the absent Ben Matthews, and the band ride hard on the back of their usual groove, as Love Walked In and I Love You More Than Rock ’N’ Roll bring the short set to a suitably shuddering crescendo. The perfect band to kick things into a higher gear, in anticipation of the climax to come.

In theory, Joe Bonamassa isn’t at all right for this type of environment. His music works best indoors when he’s in control. But, the man really impresses here with a presentation that straddles blues, rock, jam sessions and sheer bloody good songs. His band are so damn powerful and creative that they keep everyone spellbound for an hour. And Bonamassa himself, while clearly no frontman, is relaxed and at the top of his game.

The set rides along at a comfortable pace, with Oh Beautiful setting the scene for a forceful run. At times this is a throwback to the early 70s at Glasto, when bands would engage as much in jamming as they did in playing structured sets. This is particularly obvious during The Ballad Of John Henry, when Bonamassa even breaks out a theramin to great effect.

More than anyone else, Bonamassa might have won over a lot of new fans today, and this is the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the day.

You can never top Aerosmith, though. They might have been a little late onstage, but as soon as they break into the unmistakable Mama Kin, the song with which they closed their Download set a couple of weeks earlier, everything that went before is forgotten.

Perry struts and strides into every guitar hero pose he’s made his own, while Tyler again revels in his role as the ultimate showman. The latter dominates not just the stage, not just the event, but everything within a 100 mile radius. He leads the band through a balanced set that pleases every generation of fan.

There are just so many highlights it’s hard to focus on a few. Tyler grabs Sambora, who standing at the side of the stage, to sing with him during Livin’ On The Edge. Last Child and Rats In The Cellar are a reminder of how the band were peerless in the 70s. I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing might seem like a soppy ballad, but has everyone singing and swaying. Come Together is a brilliant version of the Beatles’ classic, which the band now really own. And the double punch of Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Walk This Way is a jaw-dropping set ending.

The encore begins with Dream On, Tyler seated at a grand white piano, with Perry licking out the chops standing on top, before Tom Hamilton, his bass festooned with iPhones filming everything out front, leads the charge into Sweet Emotion.

A confetti explosion is a suitable conclusion, but as the PA blares out a farewell track, Tyler makes his exit seem more dramatic than most entrances you’ve ever seen. He keeps us all fixated for a few more minutes before finally disappearing backstage.

And you know? For most of the time, the expected rain kept away. That’s the power of Aerosmith, from Kin to Emotion.