Review: Hollywood Bowl opens with Patti Austin, John Legend, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

You could credit the so-called super moon rising, the fireworks, the perfect weather or some combination thereof, but an unexplainable event occurred on Saturday during the annual “Opening Night at the Bowl” at the Hollywood Bowl.

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith performed their silliest, least consequential hit, “Love in an Elevator,” with a full orchestra backing — and it sounded pretty good.

“Opening Night at the Bowl”: In the June 24 Calendar section, the review of Saturday’s opening-night event at the Hollywood Bowl said John Legend performed “Again” from his new CD, “Love in the Future,” due out Tuesday. “Again” is from an earlier album, “Once Again.” “All of Me,” which he also performed, is from the upcoming CD, which has been moved to a September release.

Tyler, one of the great vocalists of the arena rock era (and, more recently, a judge on “American Idol”), sang his band’s Spinal Tap-worthy fantasy of sexing in a lift while the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Thomas Wilkins, brought grand, if contextually ridiculous, accompaniment. Guitarist Perry, wearing a sequined green blazer that one-upped Tyler’s sparkly black pants, offered hard rock riffs, his face carved with the sternness of an Easter Island statue.


PHOTOS: ‘Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl 2013’

“I’ll chase you all the way to the stairway, honey, kiss your sassafras,” Tyler sang before breaking into the chorus: “Love in an elevator/ Livin’ it up while I’m going down.”

It was a night of juxtapositions and notable performances, as is typical of the Bowl’s annual kickoff. Playing as part of the rite-of-summer charity gala, the Aerosmith co-founders joined fellow Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame new inductees Patti Austin and John Legend, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, singer and “Glee” costar Darren Criss, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and Powerhouse Show Choir to celebrate another year of beauty at the city’s best outdoor concert venue.

Most important, each made a convincing argument on the importance of youth music education, the focus of the evenings proceeds. YOLA’s assured, tense take on the finale of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” suggested the orchestra, inspired by the success of Venezuela’s youth music program El Sistema, is succeeding in its mission to encourage, educate and fund musically inclined kids regardless of income.

Patti Austin knows a little about such kids. She was one. The goddaughter of producer Quincy Jones, Austin from a young age has traveled her way into American ears through many avenues.

Though known for such James Ingram duets as “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” and “Baby, Come to Me,” both of which she played during a medley, Austin also gained a presence through television.

As documented in a brief video biography shown at the Bowl, hers was the voice of the memorable “meow meow” Meow Mix cat food melody, as well as Hellmann’s mayonaise’s “Bring out the Hellmann’s and bring out the best” spot. She also sang vocals on Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.”

As confident as she was affable, Austin climaxed with an emotional version of “Lean on Me,” the Bill Withers-composed hit that, vastly expanded with the aid of Wilkins and the Bowl Orchestra, filled the outdoor arena with a message of hope amid trouble.

PHOTOS: ‘Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl 2013’

Legend performed a similarly themed cover: Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and did so as someone who, despite his youth, has proven the right to be introduced, as he was, by his musical antecedent Stevie Wonder.

As always, Legend was perfectly capable of delivering would-be universal songs of love. He possesses a winning combo of charisma, a solid voice that never misses a note, an appreciation of melody and a warm delivery.

He sang his 2008 hit “Where Did My Baby Go,” a slight, hummable song of lost love. Legend offered a new work, “Again,” from his CD “Love in the Future,” which comes out Tuesday.

But though delivered with confidence, on Saturday his set didn’t make much of a dent. Safe, easy, unsurprising, his songs aspired to universality but achieved little more than treacly generality.

“Glee” singer and actor Criss was a charming diversion, especially when the platoon of the Powerhouse Show Choir marched onto the stage to sing backup and dance.

Tyler and Perry didn’t need synchonized dances to make their point: They did it through a quick set of highlights, including three of their best ballads, “Dream On,” “Crying” and the Diane Warren-penned gem “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Introduced with surreal aplomb by Peter Fonda, the pair, backed by orchestra, transformed their hard rock songs in a way that suggests they’ve got a career in Vegas if they so decide.

Tyler, wrapped in a long white jacket, approached “Dream On” with humor as he stood before the piano. Fully aware that his and Perry’s music isn’t the most sophisticated for such a fancy evening, he nonetheless enthused on the setting and his place in it.

“I love this. I get to throw back my shirttails,” he said, mimicking a concert pianist preparing to perform a concerto.

When the Bowl Orchestra blossomed at the song’s grand finale, he well could have been.


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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit