Aerosmith Music Hall Boston 1978, Can You Arrest the Band AND the Audience? They Tried

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This week, a CD quietly slipped out, barely noticed by anyone.  I encountered it in a local Newbury Comics, and the subtitle Classic 1978 Radio Broadcast caught my attention and made me pick it up. Could it possibly be the legendary Boston Music Hall Show? The hands down best Aerosmith show ever delivered in their whole forty year history? The night the whole band and the audience seemed on the verge of getting arrested? The show that got them banned for life from the Music Hall? Oh yes, yes it is. And what a doozy this CD is.

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!978 saw the band on a real hot streak. Material from Draw the Line had been seamlessly integrated into their set, and Aerosmith were firing on all cylinders. Their personal lives were a blur of booze, coke and non stop touring. But this show captures the rare moments in a band’s career when full time partying gives the music a special edge-a careening out of control at any second white knuckle ride. On the rails? Off the rails? Who cares? This is the menacing and snarling heart of rock n roll, ready to change lives forever, perhaps not for the better. For about half a year, Aerosmith was able to muster this kind of danger nearly every night. (1978’s Texxas Jam and the Philadelphia show are two prime examples). I had seen Aerosmith two years previously at the Boston Garden (Tyler had pitched face first unconscious into the audience before the encore, leaving Joe Perry to sing Train Kept A Rollin on his own), so this revitalization in only 16 months was quite unexpected.

March 28th saw thousands pack into the Music Hall, a venue not known for rock n roll. With  roughly a 3,500 capacity, and Aerosmith easily able to sell out the 17,000 seat Garden meant competition for tickets was heavy. More than capacity managed to stuff themselves in to the arena, much to the consternation of the Fire Marshal, a known foe to all things rock n roll. ( His eyes had nearly popped from his head when in 1975 Kiss had their flamethrowers in front of the stage actually hit the ceiling,  and spread out in a sustained pool of fire on the ceiling decorations at the Orpheum. Kiss was banned from using flames in Boston forever).

WBCN broadcast the show live, and both DJs are in a near frenzy as they try to be heard over the pandemonium of a crowd on the edge of a riot. And that is before the show has even started. The lights drop, the music from the film Psycho tests the sonics of the PA to the limit, and they’re off! Rats in the Cellar leads off at impossibly high volume, single handedly one of the loudest concerts at any Boston venue ever(perhaps the Clash in Harvard Square 1979 or Motorhead at the Paradise in 1983 were louder, but not by much). The playing was precise and undefined at the same time, that careening out of control feeling one gets when going into a skid on a snow covered road-it’s beautiful and cool, but you know danger is around every corner and disaster is about to strike, and perhaps strike you. Very quickly the fire marshals stopped the show: too many folks dancing in the aisles (literally hanging from rafters to be truthful). Semi pleasant conversation with Tyler, Aerosmith management and the Fire Dept takes place side stage, and after a short break, the mayhem continues. Material was mostly drawn from Rocks and Draw the Line, and each song drove the overflowing hall into further paroxysms of anarchy. Seats moved, the PA roared at a deafening level, aisles refilled with sweaty, surging masses cramming towards the stage, seeking some unspoken sacrament that was evidently changing the atmosphere into one of barely contained chaos. The show stopped a second time and the Fire Marshal ordered house lights on. The crowd reacted predictably poorly to this decision, and Tyler announced that the show was about to stop if the crowd could not control themselves and sit down properly. Of course this went nowhere, and Aerosmith’s management pointed out to the Music Hall’s management the likely results to his theater if the  plug was pulled (Watts, Dresden, Atlanta after Sherman passed through…). Lights went down and the band continued to light up the night like they never had before. Volumes were pushed to impossibly high levels-Draw the Line, Same Old Story, Toys in the Attic-near bedlam ensued in both the crowd and onstage. The Fire Marshal begged the show be stopped, but this time, Tyler passed on the message, and said “Aw hell do whatever you want to” as the band flew into a seamless and uninterrupted headlong run to the end, knowing full well the muscle to physically remove the band from the stage was not present. Amps fed back, the band reluctantly left the stage.  Sweat literally dripped from the walls, and a deafening silence took over at the end as everyone checked to see what level of hearing was still available.

This CD is a fairly good document of that evening of madness, although perhaps a little clean for my liking.  If anyone is a bit more curious, seek out some of the bootlegs of this show that are out there, preferably those sourced from the original broadcast cassettes. That source captures a little bit better the utter sonic mayhem that night had wrought. My cassette of the evening is pushed to the red, overloading but still without distortion, a perfect storm captured on tape. But most importantly, one of the monuments of rock history is now available to all. Find it. And play it LOUD.

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