Boston, Aerosmith And Farrenheit Play For 82,000 At Cotton Bowl

By Steve Morse
Boston Globe

DALLAS -- Bostonians stood tall in the Lone Star State this weekend. The 10th annual Texas Jam -- played in 96-degree heat before a recordsetting 82,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday -- was a crowning moment for Boston's rock 'n' roll community.

Three of the six bands at this all-day swelterfest call the Land of the Cod their home. Farrenheit, Aerosmith and the headlining act Boston, gave the Texas Jam an unprecedented Yankee flavor.

"Between us, Boston, Aerosmith and all our crews, it feels like a New England reunion!" beamed Charlie Farren, sitting gratefully in an airconditioned trailer behind the stadium.

Farrenheit had just opened the event with a jolting set of rock that went well beyond their mild pop image. "We got more than 80,000 human beings here. We got to play it LOUD!" Farren yelled to a young audience filled with shirtless men and bikinied women who had fought through traffic snarls of up to five miles to get there.

The big draw was the band Boston, touring for the first time in eight years. "They've been a mystery group and have been in hiding all this time. I just had to see them," said Dallas youth Troy Jester, commenting on the band's slow perfectionist recording methods and the fact they've never made a video so they could be seen on television.

The band didn't disappoint. Scraping off the rust, they played a wonderfully spirited set in this official opening of their tour, which followed a little publicized warmup show last Sunday in War Memorial Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

"I kept my eyes closed in Rochester, because I hadn't played for an audience in so long," lead guitarist Tom Scholz said later. "But once I got on stage tonight, I wasn't nervous. The audience was just unbelievable. They really made me feel like this was our reward after all those years of being away."

Boston will play a bracing eight shows at the Worcester Centrum in August -- twice as many as any band has played there in one stand before. But it's hard to imagine a show with more contagious, positive energy than theirs at the Cotton Bowl.

It was nightfall, and the heat had subsided slightly when Boston singer Brad Delp, looking trim after working out on an exercise bike this spring, captured the crowd immediately with a verse from the band's first album of a decade ago: "We were just another band out of Boston . . . We didn't have much money. We barely had enough to survive."

Pounding the drums behind him, under gold-lamped lighting, was Jim Masdea, who used to stay up with Scholz until 5 a.m. to record drum sounds in a studio in the Poor Farm in Hudson. This was before the band ever got signed to a record label. Scholz, on an hour or two of sleep, would then go to his day job at Polaroid in Cambridge.

"Living on rock 'n' roll music -- never worrying about the things we were missing," Delp sang, as the Cotton Bowl crowd, receiving new life after the torturous heat caused 200 fans to seek medical attention during the day, raised fists in tribute.

Old songs filled the early portion of the set, including the hits "Don't Look Back" and "More Than A Feeling." Here Delp restakes his claim as one of rock's greatest singers, reaching stratospheric high notes that echoed through the upper reaches of the stadium.

Newer songs from the band's 4-million-selling album, "Third Stage," followed. A fog machine and the group's towering old cathedral organ pipes (a mainstay from their '70s shows) were used for effect. But Delp's vocals still carried the show, boosted by singing support from new members Dave Sikes and Doug Huffman.

"Brad has a lot more support this time," Scholz said afterward, "he used to have to carry things himself. And he could because he had amazing breath control. He could sing halfway through the verse and chorus on one breath. Night after night he would do that, but now Dave and Doug can help him out. They've both been lead vocalists themselves."

Another ace in the hole was guitarist Gary Pihl, the best known of the new members. He played four Texas Jams with Sammy Hagar -- and has been vital in organizing the new unit and sound. "He's so good I almost feel like a consultant at times," said Scholz.

Pihl has replaced the departed rhythm guitarist Barry Goudreau, a likable presence in the old band. "Barry was a great guitar player. I knew when he left, there would be something missing, but Gary has really done the job," said Scholz, whose band then ate vegetarian food, was served champagne (though few drank it, preferring non alcoholic fare) and returned to their hotel in a van and regular car, eschewing limousines.

Boston's triumph came after a long day of head-banging music. The Dallas Morning News called the Texas Jam "the annual heavy-metal-beerand-sunstroke festival." For most of the day that was so true. Two bands in particular, Whitesnake and Poison, who both have albums in the Top 10, were sludge merchants. Whitesnake pranced and preened to little avail under the guidance of singer David Coverdale, while Poison proved to be flaccid, peroxide-blonde, glam rockers -- and nothing more. The best non New England act was Tesla, an exciting crunch-metal act from Sacramento. They have a recent hit, "Modern Day Cowboy," which should be the first of many.

Aerosmith played just before Boston and rallied superbly after a sluggish start. The sun's dying rays were right in their eyes, and the heat was still stultifying, but singer Steve Tyler & Co., who also performed at the first Texas Jam, scored with their powerhouse decibels. They motored through favorites such as "Walk This Way" (revitalized last year in tandem with (Run-D.M.C.) and "Train Kept A-Rollin'," but also played two strong new originals, "Magic Touch" and "Rag Doll," from their next album, ''Permanent Vacation," to be released in August.

A preview listen to the album, held during the afternoon, hinted that Aerosmith definitely wish to expand their sound. Beyond their normal hard rock are textures of Mellotron, steel drums, delta blues harmonica and wildly interwoven sounds from jungle birds to killer whales. The album was made in Vancouver with Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairbairn.

"Bruce just said to go for it -- and we did," guitarist Joe Perry said later. "We hope this turns a lot of new people on to Aerosmith." The group is now off until the album's release, then will likely tour Europe before returning for possible Boston area dates this fall.

An emotional moment in this New England takeover of Texas came when Boston's Delp ventured to the Aerosmith dressing room to shake hands with Tyler. He took note that their bands had never shared the same bill before.

"We should have done this a long time ago," Delp said. "I hope we can do it again some time." So do a lot of New Englanders, no doubt, who didn't have access to this most landmark of Texas Jams.