March 2, 2005

Concert Review: Tesla: Five Man Acoustical Jam 2/23/05

You read that right, this is a concert review, not a review of a fifteen year old album. Tesla is currently on the road doing an acoustic tour, and I finally get the chance to see these guys perform live. I have been a fan of theirs ever since their second album, "The Great Radio Controversy." The tour is named after their album which helped to kick off the Unplugged craze that ran through much of the 1990's.

I always thought that these guys got a raw deal, getting lumped in with all of the hair bands of the time. Granted, for awhile their look was determined by the times and they had that sort of generic teased hair/tight pants look of their contemporaries, but the music told a different story. They played a driving blues and country influenced rock that featured one of the better two guitar attacks of the time. Another thing I liked was they incorporated a lot of acoustic guitar into their sound, even if it wasn't prominent, you could pick it up in the background. Well, they made a few more albums and eventually disbanded. Singer Jeff Keith toured for awhile with a band called Sofa King, and I am not sure about the other members. I believe they got back together in 2002 or 3, recorded a new album, and that brings us to the night of the 23rd and the show that I finally got to see.

Upon arriving at the club, the first thing I noticed was the sizable crowd that was forming. This was promising, a good crowd always helps to bring a show up. I got inside around 7:40pm, got myself a drink, and headed down towards the stage which was already set up for Tesla. As it turns out, there was to be no opening act, giving them the maximum amount of time to play. The stage reminded me of a smaller version of what I saw at the Godsmack acoustic show I attended this past December. There were rugs laid down on the stage, some wood bar stools, microphone stands drum kit, keyboard, a big couch. Them I did a double take, what is that? Sitting on a stand next to the microphone stand labeled "Frank" was an odd looking electronic device. Could it be? Yes, it is a theremin! This thing is very cool, it produces these strange sci-fi sounds that you control by placing you hands in between the antennae and not touching it. You have probably heard it before and didn't know it, it was featured prominently in the score for the movie Ed Wood. In any event the stage was set and ready to go.

Just before the clock struck 9:00, there was a siting. Jeff Keith, Frank Hannon, Tommy Skeoch, Brian Wheat, and Troy Luccketta took their positions on the stage to loud applause from the crowd which had filled the venue. For the next nearly two hours they played old favorites, rarities, and a few songs from their latest album, "Into the Now." Something that surprised me as they played was just how many songs I didn't recognize. It had been awhile since I listened to much of their music, but I thought I had remembered more than I had. I recognized the big ones, singing along with "Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)," "Hang Tough," "What You Give," and others, but there were a bunch that I grooved to, but couldn't sing along. They even played a song, which I forget the name, which they had never before played live, requiring Jeff to have a lyric sheet in front of him!

The performance was fantastic, not perfect, but it was live. The atmosphere was very loose, the guys loose onstage, laughing at the occasional goof. Jeff Keith at one point commenting on how this was like "Tesla band practice," but no one cared, it was just part of the show. Jeff sounded as strong and raspy as ever, projecting with his incredibly skinny frame sounding just as he did 15 years ago. Brian Wheat sat in the back keeping the low end groove going. Troy pounding the drums, he is an excellent drummer. Tommy Skeoch played the rock star with his hair pulled back and large dark sunglasses on, playing his acoustic, with occasional electric interludes. Frank Hannon had the busiest night playing 6 and 12 string acoustic, electric, occasional theremin, and a little talk box. He might as well have been juggling up there with how often he was switching instruments.

Like I mentioned earlier it was a very loose atmosphere with a few goofs, like the beginning of "Love Song" when Brian wasn't at the keyboards, and another time when Tommy had to finish tuning. The performance though was great, Jeff had the crowd in the palm of his hand. It was great getting the chance to see them. Their music translates so well to the acoustic sound, a lot moreso than some other bands that have attempted it (I'm looking at you Dokken, valiant attempt, but stick with electric!). These guys make the whole acoustic think look easy.

A few more things about the show. There was a contest that allowed some people to spend the show onstage with the band, sitting on the aforementioned couch. Also one lucky fan had the chance to actually go up and perform with them. The winner was a guy named Hugh, who joined Tesla for the final song of their set, "Little Suzi," and he was pretty good too! It was a great finish to an excellent set.

I encourage any fan of rock music to go out and see them if you have the chance, you will not be disappointed.

Photo's courtesy of Tom's Lake George Site, many thanks.


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