Movie Review — “Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb” in Nashville

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Steven Tyler is lead singer/front-man for America’s most enduring rock’n roll band, Aerosmith, a sometime talent judge for “American Idol” and a guy who knows opportunity when it knocks at his door.

Run-DMC covers “Walk this Way” in the late ’80s? Let’s try an Aerosmith comeback.

A whole new audience discovers or re-discovers him on TV? Let’s do a solo album in Nashville, one with a little twang to it. “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere” didn’t overwhelm “the critics.” But it hit number one on the sales charts, and that prompted the ultimate country homage from the “Demon of Screamin'” — a show at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, made legendary by its long association with the Grand Ole Opry.

And you can’t do that show without cameras present. Aerosmith’s longtime filmmaker in residence Casey Tebo captured the show, interviewed Tyler’s fans among his rock peers and gives us a highly-sanitized “backstage” look at the-then 69 year-old rocker, taking such a “risk” with this venture that they call the show and the film “Out on a Limb.”

The concert itself is terrific. His stage-banter includes little half-confessional monologues — “Blame it on Joe Perry, blame it on my ex-wife.” — memories of meeting his guitar-player/co-band leader Perry, and a hilariously disingenuous account of his early life, “tiny town in New Hampshire” “country music” bonafides He’s about as country as a Kardashian.

Dad was a Juilliard-trained classical musician, and young Steven Victor Tallarico grew up in New York…city. He just MET Perry at a rock show in Sunapee, New Hampshire.

But aside from that balderdash, a faintly cornpone stage set and wearing jeans, he’s the same old Steven, same scarf-bedecked mike stand, same belting style, same long-hair and jewelry, a little less makeup.

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And the show captured here is terrific,  three horn players added to his “Loving Mary Band” — female drummer, fiddler, bassist, and accordion/harmonic player, a couple of guys with guitars. It’s a Janis Joplin/Joe Cocker styled ’60s band, not quite rhythm and blues, not country either. They deliver an electric blues set, both the new songs, the Aerosmith tunes he performs, with the odd Janis Joplin cover mixed in.

The band can play, the ladies are all top-flight backup singers in addition to instrumentalists. Hearing Tyler and Co. cover “Piece of My Heart” or “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin” is sometimes thrilling, and at the very least just plain fun.

It’s the backstage stuff that parks the film more in “for hardcore fans only” territory. Director Casey Tebo rounds up only the most adoring acolytes — including Slash and Tyler’s MANAGER (Rebecca Warfield) — as interview subjects. Tebo narrates the film with similar fawning accolades, and comes off seriously insufferable as he does. Calling yourself an “egomaniacal director” before somebody else does wasn’t a smart play.

Shooting those scenes, flattery from one and all, unexplained random snatches of Steven being Steven (never unguarded, even when driving his vintage Bentley) in locations that are never identified and shot in black and white, gives the picture visual variety, but no insights.

If you’ve ever seen another concert documentary, you get why this material is necessary. But I’m at a loss recalling a film that gave us less candid or entertaining behind-the-scenes views. Even Miley Cyrus’s concert films capture temper, conflict, “the stakes” behind this or that presentation, with more candor.

I had to check his credits to make sure Tebo wasn’t behind the similarly-sanitized Justin Bieber docs.

Even if one and all exaggerate the “what he had to lose” element, even if this music is “country” only in the modern arena rock country sense, “Out on a Limb” can be appreciated for taking a singer (slightly) out of his element.

And Tebo’s film gives us the sense that Tyler was living the dream most every rock singer of his generation shares, to front a Big Band, with horns and backup singers, paying homage to some old favorites, and vamping through others, and having a ball doing it.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, squeaky clean

Cast: Steven Tyler, Slash, The Loving Mary Band, David Hodges, Rebecca Warfield, Adam DeLeo, Nathan Barlowe

Credits:Directed by Casey Tebo. An eOne/Momentum release.

Running time: 1:35

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