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Aerosmith delivers an epic show

By Chris Vetter

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

CADOTT — As promised, Aerosmith arrived, played and conquered Rock Fest on Saturday. The Boston-area rockers lived up to the hype and huge expectations, delivering an epic 18-song performance that spanned nearly two hours.

Lead singer Steven Tyler took the stage, dressed in a sparkling black jacket and sporting a mustache that made him look even more than usual like Captain Jack Sparrow.

“This is going to be an attitude-adjustment night,” Tyler said.

Aerosmith kicked off their set with “Back in the Saddle,” “Eat the Rich” and the huge sing-along, “Love in an Elevator.” A huge crowd — easily the largest at the festival in the past five years — cheered, danced and sang along as Tyler kept playing hits, belting out “Cryin’ “ and “Livin’ on the Edge.” A huge screen behind the band really helped fans see the stage, even those who set up chairs halfway up the hill.

Tyler swore under his breath between songs but wasn’t apologetic, noting it’s a rock show and anything goes.

“This isn’t ‘American Idol,’ this is Middle America,” he said.

The band played several tunes from the mid-1970s. Older fans sang along to “Toys in the Attic,” but younger fest-goers didn’t know it.

Tyler was hitting all the right chords too. The band hasn’t toured extensively recently, so his voice sounded rested and strong. “Big Ten Inch” was bluesy and loose. “Ragdoll” offered some energy. Tyler was able to hit the high notes and epic wail while belting out the ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

Aerosmith finished their main set with the back-to-back hits “Dude Looks Like a Lady” and “Walk This Way,” with band members strutting up the catwalk ramp that extends into the VIP section.

For the encore, Tyler sat at a piano and slowly rolled into “Dream On,” with steam shooting up from the stage as the song reached its crescendo. The band finished their 115-minute show with another classic, “Sweet Emotion,” with fans once again singing along to every word.

Two years ago, Rock Fest delivered Iron Maiden. Last year, it was KISS. Aerosmith may be the pinnacle for this festival, as everything fell into place — a band that appealed to rock fans of all ages and perfect weather for the third consecutive night.

With a band that spans several decades, perhaps the biggest complaint will be about some of the songs that didn’t make the setlist on this night; “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Angel,” “Amazing” and “Same Old Song and Dance” are some favorites that weren’t played.

However, fans got what they wanted — a memorable show from rock legends.

Cheap Trick solid in return

Cheap Trick performed in the first-ever Rock Fest in 1994. The band returned the following year, and again in 2005.

The Illinois-based rockers put on a solid 18-song, 80-minute show, punctuating their hits from the late 1970s. Early in the show, they played tracks like “Tonight It’s You” and “Hot Love.” Singer Robin Zander noted the song came from the band’s first album.

“It was out before 90 percent of you were born,” Zander told the crowd.

The band peaked late in its set with their big hit, “I Want You To Want Me,” and immediately followed it with “Dream Police.”

As expected, the band skipped its well-known 1988 power ballad, “The Flame,” even though it was the group’s first-ever No. 1 hit. Cheap Trick prefers to be known for its rock songs.

Live regroups with new singer

Live returned to Rock Fest for the first time since 2008 but are touring with a new lead singer. After parting ways with Ed Kowalczyk, the remaining band members turned to Chris Shinn, whose voice was a decent likeness.

The band played a heavy selection of Live’s greatest hits collection over their 13-song, 70-minute show, such as “All Over You” and “Selling the Drama” early in the set, with Shinn settling in as lead vocals. He joked that he used to listen to them as a teenager.

However, the band couldn’t ignore the fact that their voice had changed.

“We had no idea how difficult it would be to keep a band together,” guitarist Chad Taylor said with a hint of remorse.

The band kept pounding out hits like “Pain Lies on the Riverside,” and they surprised fans by playing their biggest hit, “Lightning Crashes,” in the middle of the show. They saved “I Alone” for near the finish. I didn’t want to like this show because Kowalczyk was the voice of this band, but they won me over.

The Pretty Reckless underwhelms

Taylor Momsen staggered to the stage Saturday afternoon, stumbled as she clung to the mic stand and kept her shades firmly in place as her band, The Pretty Reckless, played an uneven 10-song show.

Her drunken stupor could have been an act — after all, Momsen starred as Cindy Lou Who in the 2000 version of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and she had an ongoing role in CW’s “Gossip Girl” for four seasons. But if it was an act, she’s a better actress than previously thought.

Momsen swayed and danced provocatively, while her bandmates often shot quizzical looks at her — they definitely weren’t on the same page. Her voice was surprisingly soft and frequently vanished behind the heavy guitars. It was like watching a car wreck. Several people in the packed pit in front of the stage headed for the exits.

The band finished their set with their best tracks: “Heaven Knows,” “Make Me Want To Die,” their mega-hit “Going To Hell” and “F—d Up World.” But this show had a lot of buzz — the pit completely sold out a day early — and it fell far short of the hype.

Rock Fest has booked some good female-led acts — Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and Lita Ford have delivered in recent years. Other options are out there like Garbage, Evanescence, Flyleaf and In This Moment. Those women know how to rock and command the stage.

At this point, Momsen simply does not.

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