How have you spent the many years since Aerosmith last mounted an extensive concert tour in North America? One way to get an onstage fix on the Boston band is to listen to the handful of live records they’ve released over the decades.
Aerosmith released its first concert album, Live! Bootleg, in 1978, as part of the glut of live records that followed the success of Kiss‘ Alive! in the second half of the ’70s. The band has been well represented by periodic live sets but not overly so. With seven official releases, no one’s going to mistake Aerosmith for the Grateful Dead, that’s for sure. But subsequent records have chronicled the quintet at various stages of its career – some good, others perhaps best left undocumented.
With Aerosmith kicking off its open-ended Peace Out: The Farewell Tour on Sept. 2, in Philadelphia (but without original drummer Joey Kramer), it seems like a good time to pass some judgment on their library of live recordings in the below list of Aerosmith Live Albums Ranked Worst to Best.
7. Classics Live! (1986)
Columbia Records didn’t take Aerosmith’s departure from the label quietly. Like many other labels, they began digging into the vaults, seeing how it could continue getting blood from that particular stone as the group began its comeback with Geffen. Classics Live! is not a proud moment for any of the parties involved, however. Co-produced by future Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill and Jon Bon Jovi‘s cousin Tony Bongiovi, the set is skimpy (eight songs, 36 minutes), random, poorly annotated and mediocre. Most of the songs were taken from a 1984 show in Boston by Aerosmith’s second lineup, following the departures of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. One track, the studio outtake “Major Barbra,” isn’t even live and certainly isn’t a classic. The original lineup is represented on a 1978 performance of “Kings and Queens,” but that’s hardly enough to salvage what’s almost a criminally unnecessary release.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Train Kept A Rollin” From ‘Classics Live’
6. A Little South of Sanity (1998)
The fact that this was a contractual obligation release as Aerosmith moved from Geffen back to Columbia has given the one a bad rap over the years. Recorded during the Get a Grip and Nine Lives tours between 1993-97, its 23 songs capture the more polished and dependable hitmaking version of the band, on a run of four multiplatinum albums and big hits on both the Rock and Billboard Hot 100 charts. Some of the faithful didn’t warm to the likes of “Angel,” “Cryin’,” “Crazy” and “What It Takes,” but the hard-rocking favorites from all eras are well represented, and Perry’s “Walk On Down” is a welcome deep dig. Serviceable if not essential.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Eat the Rich’ From ‘A Little South of Sanity’
5. Aerosmith Rocks Donington (2015)
Aerosmith commemorated its 2014 European tour with a live album dedicated to this festival-headlining set. The group had plenty of ups and downs, including health issues, during the years between this and the shows captured on A Little South of Sanity, but onstage it still made big noise and played with the strong, professional fervor that became its stock in trade when the big MTV hits started coming. You can feel the sense of occasion as part of the Download Festival, and the show’s massive scale is audible (and visible on the companion DVD). It sounds better than A Little South … , and works well as a chronicle of latter-day Aerosmith.
Watch Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ From ‘Aerosmith Rocks Donington’
4. Rockin’ the Joint (2005)
More a snapshot than documentation, this 12-song set – though released three and a half years after it was recorded – is a concise souvenir of Aerosmith in early 2000s form, seasoned, solid and capable of occasional instrumental fireworks. The “Star Spangled Banner” ending on “Train Kept A-Rollin'” is a bit hokey, but the group is audibly happy to be in the relatively smaller confines of the Joint in Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and breathes fire during “No More No More, “Draw the Line” and “Big Ten Inch Record.” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is here, and two songs from the then-current Just Push Play (“Beyond Beautiful” and “Light Inside”) only serve to remind listeners of that album’s shortcomings.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Seasons of Wither’ From ‘Rockin’ the Joint’
3. 1971: The Road Stars Here (2021)
A curious little piece that surfaced for Record Store Day and sold so quickly it debuted on several Billboard charts. The lo-fi recording was made with Joe Perry’s Wollensak reel-to-reel machine during what sounds like a rehearsal in front of a small group of friends. Surprisingly clear and well mixed, it’s a fascinating document of Aerosmith lean and hungry, still developing but already ferocious as they run through early takes of “Somebody,” “Mama Kin” and “Dream On,” as well as the rarity “Major Barbara” years before it would surface on record. The nascent band also demonstrates its zeal for blues (Jazz Gillum’s “Reefer Head Woman,” which made Night in the Ruts eight years later) and R&B (Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”). Genuine and unvarnished, you can hear Aerosmith just itching to get the wings that would come a few years later.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ From ‘The Road Stars Here’
2. Live! Bootleg (1978)
Everybody and their mother was doing live albums by the mid-’70s, and Aerosmith – starting to reel into dysfunction between 1977’s Draw the Line and 1979’s Night in the Ruts – was no exception. The difference on their first live album is that the quintet didn’t take the tapes back into the studio for polish and sweetening. Instead, the two-disc set lives up to the Bootleg part of its title with a raw, warts-and-all representation of the group at that point, barely hanging onto the rails but still capable of rocking hard in all sorts of places. The 16 tracks come from concerts during 1977-78, except for a pair of Boston radio simulcast recordings from 1973: “I Ain’t Got You” and a medley of James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn” with the band’s “Drawn the Line.” The hits are all here; so is the first album appearance of “Chip Away the Stone” and Aerosmith’s version of “Come Together,” after recording it for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film soundtrack. It’s shambolic but enjoyable and imperfect, a genuine document of what Aerosmith was like at the time.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Back in the Saddle’ From ‘Live! Bootleg’
1. Classics Live! II (1987)
After catching wind of Columbia’s devious plot to mine its vaults for live material – and catching an earful of the dreadful Classics Live! – Aerosmith stepped in to be more active in compiling this far more enjoyable companion piece. Co-produced again by Paul O’Neill, Classics Live! II is not only better than its predecessor but is Aerosmith’s best live set despite its short length (39 minutes) and relatively skimpy eight-song track listing. But those performances, mostly from a New Year’s Eve 1984 hometown show at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre, are cracking. Aerosmith was reunited and sounded so good, killing it on classics such as “Back in the Saddle,” “Walk This Way,” “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Last Child” and “Toys in the Attic.” “Draw the Line” hails from the second California Jam Festival in 1978 to offer a taste of that version of the band, and it jumps forward to 1986 for a ripping rendition of Perry’s “Let the Music Do the Talking,” showing what good shape the band was in on the cusp of its second golden era.
Hear Aerosmith’s ‘Let the Music Do the Talking’ From ‘Classics Live II’