Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 15, 2013)
After a terrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in the spring of 2011, many musical artists worked to raise funds for relief efforts. Aerosmith decided to go to the source and embarked on an eight-show tour of Japan in the fall of 2011.
That trek becomes the focus of Rock for the Rising Sun, a concert video culled from these concerts. A quick online search indicates these shows boasted between 22 and 24 numbers a night, but we only get 17 as part of this main program. 1973’s Aerosmith gives us “Mama Kin” and “Movin’ Out”, while we get “SOS (Too Bad)” and “Train Kept A Rollin’” from 1974’s Get Your Wings.
1975’s Breakout classic Toys in the Attic delivers “Walk This Way”, “Sweet Emotion”, “No More No More” and the title track. From there 1976’s also-classic Rocks boasts “Last Child” and “Rats in the Cellar”. We find the title track from 1977’s Draw the Line before we skip ahead to 1987’s comeback hit Permanent Vacation and “Hangman Jury”.
1989’s follow-up smash Pump brings us “Love in an Elevator” and “Monkey on My Back”, while we find “Livin’ on the Edge” and “Boogie Man” from 1991’s Get a Grip. We also locate “Listen to the Thunder”, which is just the title given to a Joey Kramer drum solo; it’s not a proper song.
Though most of the program concentrates on the concert stage, it doesn’t totally reside there. We get additional snippets from backstage as well as in various Japanese spots and during promotional spots.
I’ve not seen it in a while, but I think Aerosmith’s prior concert release – 2004’s You Gotta Move - lost major points due to editing. If I recall correctly, it chopped off parts of songs and often placed dialogue on top of performances to become a poor representation of a live show.
Sun indulges more of those tendencies than I’d like, but I don’t think it ever approaches the frustrating messiness of Move. Yeah, it annoys when the program loses parts of intros/conclusions or places dialogue on top of the songs, but this doesn’t happen a ton. Overall, the numbers come across in (essentially) full versions; the exceptions – like an abbreviated “Rats in the Cellar” or a snippet of “Train” over the end credits – irritate but don’t crush the show like they did Move.
Still, I wish Sun stayed solely on the stage and left the other material for a featurette. On their own, these moments can be interesting, especially when we check out rehearsals or go backstage; some good material arrives.
But I do think that kind of stuff would work better as a bonus feature, not part of the main program. I guess bands and directors want to indulge their artsy sides and not make “just another concert video”, but I think this ignores what the viewers desire. Maybe you can find a fan somewhere who complained that he/she got an entire, unedited concert from his/her favorite band, but I doubt it; fans want to see/hear the music, not vaguely related nonsense.
When Sun stays on stage – and doesn’t chop out too much of the music – it does quite well for itself. Because I was a kid in the 1970s, I never saw Aerosmith in their “golden era”; I liked a couple of songs back then, but I’m more of a “second-generation fan” who didn’t really embrace them until after their late-1980s comeback.
This means I didn’t see them live until well into their “senior years” as a band and I can’t compare later-era Aerosmith’s live shows to those from their 1970s creative peak. Usually I feel like I missed out on something because I didn’t see various artists in their heydays; for instance, I’ve enjoyed the Who shows I’ve viewed over the last 30 years, but I know they don’t vaguely compete with the band’s late 1960s/early 1970s performances.
Hearing about Aerosmith’s concerts in the 1970s, though, I’m not quite as sure I missed out on a whole lot. In an era where everyone did drugs, I get the impression Aerosmith did more drugs and let those substances affect their concerts more than most.
This means that while modern-day Aerosmith may be “safer” than the 1970s version, at least you’re more likely to get a good show out of them, and Sun represents a band who can clearly still play. Actually, I was pretty surprised at how good they sounded – not that I expected them to put on a bad show, but I didn’t think they’d have held up as well as they did. (I last saw Aerosmith in person back in 2009 and I honestly can’t remember how they sounded.)
In addition to the good performance, director Casey Patrick Tebo manages an efficient presentation – when he shies away from those non-concert elements, at least. Actually, I don’t object to the way Tebo shows the behind the scenes bits – I’m just not wild that they pop up at all.
While many concert videos wear us out with rapid-fire editing, Tebo keeps things relatively calm. I wouldn’t refer to this as slow, sedate cutting, but the visuals appear at a good pace. We get to actually stick with images long enough to take them in and appreciate them, so we feel like we’ve actually gotten a feel for the band as a concert presence. That might not sound like a big deal, but so many concert videos kill us with crummy editing that I applaud the ones that show some restraint.
All of these elements help make Sun a reasonably satisfying concert program. It comes with too many flaws to earn a high endorsement, but I still like it. Maybe someday we’ll get a genuinely great presentation of an Aerosmith show, but until then, Sun will do.