Some of the band spent the show trying to decide on dessert at the Picadilly, while others spent the set in a snit.

aerosmith photo
Aerosmith

Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler clearly has no plans to grow old gracefully. Saturday at Jazz Fest’s Acura Stage, the lead singer spent much of the set having an obvious, onstage squabble with the sound engineer running the monitors, repeatedly pointing angrily at the wedges in front of him and his in-ear monitor. At one point, Tyler jokingly stopped short of hitting him in the face with the base of his mic stand, and Tyler missed the pick-up in “Sweet Emotion” because he couldn’t let it go. It felt like the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of the old guy sitting on the porch waving his cane at cars to slow down.

Aerosmith 2018 is not a pretty sight. They can still do the thing that they’ve now done for 40 years, but Tyler aside, they played with the passion of men who’d done the same job for 40 years. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford often had the stoic looks of guys still trying to process the end of Infinity War. The set contained gestures toward authenticity including two Fleetwood Mac songs from its pre-Stevie Nicks blues period, and the band’s own, less played, “Adam’s Apple.” But really, the band functioned as a jukebox, a cranky jukebox that got a little pitchy at times.

At the same time on the Gentilly Stage, Cage the Elephant suggested that rock ’n’ roll is an attitude, not a wardrobe and fan-blown hair style. The band hadn’t even got to the first chorus of the opening song before singer Matt Schultz jumped off the stage and into the audience. A song or two later, his brother Brad left the stage as well to go play guitar in the crowd for a bit. That restless, no-stage-can-contain-me spirit felt far more like rock ’n’ roll than Aerosmith’s parade of clichés. 

It was not a given that Boyfriend’s rap cabaret would scale up from a club stage to the Gentilly Stage. Not surprisingly, she had ideas about how to meet the challenge. She made her Jazz Fest debut with a rock band to muscle up her sound, and her dancers—complete with regular costume changes—helped her fill the stage. During “Beauty is Pain,” they attacked her with large, cardboard cut-outs of beauty products while she defended herself with a cut-out blow dryer.  

Her cover of Rick James’ “Super Freak” was a bridge too far, though—too on the nose, and she was not quite enough of a singer to carry the song. For me, the next song was more effective as it reached back South Pacific to grab key lines from “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” for a feminist anthem. 

Thursday at Jazz Fest, the soundman saw Terrace Martin—the guy with his name in the cube—sit at two keyboards with a Vocoder, but he still didn’t put those instruments in the mix. We only heard Martin when he played saxophone. Saturday at the bounce showcase at the Congo Square Stage, Partners-N-Crime clearly had their DJ in their monitors, but none of that music made it to the crowd either. For almost three songs, PNC essentially delivered an a cappella performance before the mics went out as well. Sound issues like that undermine any claims the festival wants to make about its support of music and culture. 

DJ Jubilee also played the bounce showcase, and he remains a one-man party. I’ve never seen him fail to get people dancing, and at Congo Square he had Anita Baker fans back among the memorial garden totems doing the Eddie Bauer, the Git Some, and the Monkey on a Stick

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A lot was different about Leyla McCalla’s set this year at Jazz Fest. To start with, she was eight months’ pregnant with twins, and she wasn’t alone onstage. She has played primarily solo on cello or banjo, though guests have sat in. Saturday she had an actual band, and that seemed to loosen her up. Her set still had intellectual and emotional gravity including “Aleppo,” a song inspired by watching on Facebook Live as people tried to make sense of bombs dropping on them in real time. But she was also goofier, which suited her well. She used the lineup to preview a few songs from her upcoming album The Capitalist Blues, and the preview boded well.