Live Review: Tesla at the Tabernacle

Jeff Keith and Frank Hannon

Just after the band Tesla finished their rendition of the song “Signs,” lead singer Jeff Keith turned to the audience and said:

“Do you want a sign? I’ll give you a sign…”

He then turned to face the band’s enormous the backdrop, pointed his finger and said:

“ T-E-S-L-A. Plain and simple, just how we like it.”

Simplicity. It’s the name of their latest album and it’s a philosophy that’s always worked for Tesla. No over-the-top stage show filled with explosions or confetti, no flashy clothes, just five unpretentious guys who play honest rock ‘n’ roll. Tesla was unfortunately lumped in with whole “hair band” movement back in the 80s, but I never thought that was fair. Sure, they had the hair, but their music and lyrical content was more akin to the now classic rock bands of the late 60s and 70s, not the cliched “party-all-night until the morning light” outlook of their 80s contemporaries. Whatever they are doing is working just fine, as they proved during their career-spanning 17-song set in front of a near capacity crowd at The Tabernacle.

The band opened with the song “MP3” from Simplicity, and that might have been the only misstep of the night. While a perfectly good song in its own right “MP3” is a mid-tempo rocker, and I was expecting something a little more up-tempo to get things rolling. No harm, no foul though. “Edison’s Medicine” and “Gettin’ Better” did a perfectly fine job of getting the crowd up and moving.

The more well-known songs such as “The Way It Is” and “Love Song” turned into massive sing-alongs, while the crowd was just as happy watching the band turn up the guitars and rock the hell out of Tesla classics like “Heaven’s Trail,” “Mama’s Fool,” and “Hang Tough.” Lead guitarist Frank Hannon sprinkled generous slabs of his always tasteful playing throughout each song. Friends will know that I’ve flown the Frank Hannon flag for years, and how he’s not more widely recognized as the monster musician that he is is beyond me.

Despite recent hip surgery, singer Jeff Keith looked surprisingly spry. He’s got a very animated stage presence, at times very Jagger-esque. He remained in constant motion, punctuating lyrics with hand motions such as starting a motorcycle or lighting a fire, each usually followed by a huge grin. He and bandmates Hannon, bassist Brian Wheat, drummer Troy Luccketta and guitarist Dave Rude seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and the warm reception they received from all in attendance.

The band finished out the night by going all the way back to their beginning as a band and performed “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi” from their debut album Mechanical Resonance, but not before playing what I’ve always felt was their finest moment: “Song And Emotion” from their 1991 release Psychotic Supper. Written as a tribute to the late Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, “Song And Emotion” captures all of the classic Tesla staples: the meaningful, emotional lyric; the dynamic instrumentation; the passionate delivery. It’s all there.

Tesla is a band that seems to be firing on all cylinders, 30 plus years into their career. They are writing some of the best music they’ve ever written, they remain a powerful live act, and despite little radio airplay (of their newer material that is), they continue to tour and win over fans worldwide.

Simplicity works.

If you missed Tesla at the Tabernacle have no fear. The band will be returning to the Atlanta area on June 28, part of a triple-bill with Def Leppard and Styx.