ROCK / Led and Stones brought forth bubbles - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

ROCK / Led and Stones brought forth bubbles

CRAFT and graft; the sweating brow of the horny-handed son of toil; the simple satisfaction of a job well done; all the usual connotations of the suffix smith are appropriate to the band whose name begins with an oxygenated chocolate bar. There's only one Aerosmith, and the doughtily libidinous US hard- rockers have no trouble showing an affectionate Wembley Arena crowd - young enough, and numerous enough, to be their children - just why America regards them not so much as a band as a way of life.

The stringy carcass of singer Steven Tyler is in remarkably good shape given the nine lifetimes of mindless debauchery to which he has subjected it. This man has had carnal knowledge of more mike stands than you or I have had TV-dinners, and he still wears his spray-on trousers several inches lower than decency allows. He flays his bony form back and forth across the stage with unflagging energy - flapping his arms and leering like a demon, his potent squawk the perfect complement to Joe Perry's churning guitar riffs. This band have always been more than just a cunning weld of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. They swing. Sometimes they're even funky.

There is the odd dull moment. Aerosmith's more recent power ballads do not have the mystique of 'Dream On', say, and Joe Perry should never be allowed near a vocal microphone even if he claims to be fixing it. But Thom Gimbel's unexpected saxophone adds welcome variety, and the redneck raunch of 'Dude (Looks Like a Lady)' and the epic 'Love in an Elevator' are diabolically hard to resist. They close with the choppy greatness of 'Walk This Way', the song which the then much more bankable Run DMC employed to launch themselves on the comeback trail, changing the course of rock and rap forever. Wouldn't it be nice if Aerosmith could return the favour?

For Deborah Harry, giving the kids what they want no longer seems to be an option. Early on in this tour, the outright refusal of the grande dame of New York new wave to play those greatest hits led a disaffected crowd to accord her the indignity of a Bronx cheer, Glaswegian style. At the Hammersmith Apollo, there is more goodwill on both sides. A jovial Harry compromises by playing numerous Blondie album tracks and audience dissent is restricted to the odd aggrieved conservative shouting: 'Play something we know.'

It is a bizarre set, brimming with B-sides and Iggy Pop covers, but there is something great about it. Guitarists Chris Stein and Peter Minn might sound like two people trying to show off in a guitar shop, but the raggedness of the setting allows Harry's voice to shine like a jewel. Her singing has put on extra layers of richness and subtlety over the years. Several times tonight - on the opening Blondie remnant, and the surprise finale, a beautiful appropriation of the Rolling Stones' 'Wild Horses' - it scales extraordinary heights. At these moments, and when dancing like a dervish, Deborah Harry has rarely been more glamorous. Her determination to maintain a dialogue with her audience instead of just keeping them happy is admirable.

Not much dialogue goes on between Sylvian & Fripp at the Royal Albert Hall. This unlikely double bill - the Hale and Pace of ambience, the avant-garde Flanagan & Allen - prefer to let their music do the talking. David Sylvian's appearance might have undergone dramatic changes from bottle-blond proto-waif to off-duty insurance salesman, but his voice has retained the satisfying consistency of a second spoonful of Benylin. Robert Fripp, as if to prove that being Toyah's husband is not his only claim to fame, sits alone and isolated in a darkened paddock. Those whose ears are not fully attuned to the alarming complexity of his guitar playing may feel that this is the best place for him.

The sounds which they and their three supporting musicians make manage to be simultaneously dense and brittle. When Sylvian swaps his guitar for a keyboard and flicks into virtual ballad mode things lighten up a bit, but genuinely bright moments - of which the jolly 'Jean the Birdman' is one - are few and far between. Everyone seems happy enough at the end, though there are few takers in the foyer for the white hooded souvenir sweatshirt with 'sf' written on it; to you sir, a mere pounds 40.

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