At Nation on Sunday, Tesla reminded folks of a time when hair and metal were fast friends.
The Sacramento band, formed in 1985, is now touring in support of its first CD of original music in a decade. The record is titled "Into the Now," which seems a risky handle given that pretty much all the goodwill Tesla earned with its fans comes from, well, the "then."
Other than guitarist Tommy Skeoch, who according to a recent band announcement has substance abuse problems, the quintet's heyday lineup remains intact. Lead singer Jeff Keith, who gave a hippie vibe to even the heaviest or hairiest tunes Tesla ever produced, showed he's still got a spacey side.
"Time to show some love now!" Keith said before serving up "Love Song," the best of the many power ballads in the Tesla oeuvre. When not singing, Keith alternated between miming a boxing workout and a male stripper routine. He wore a rather charming and very loopy smile while leading the audience on an arm- swaying singalong of "What You Give" from 1991's "Psychotic Supper."
The show had occasional heavy moments, too. "Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)" had more power chords than typical Tesla. "Mama's Fool" revealed a debt to Aerosmith. The band also incited a lot of fist pumping by jumping into the opening riff of Foghat's version of the blues classic, "I Just Want to Make Love to You."
But it was the softer side of Tesla that ruled the roost. The night's biggest crowd response came with the reprise of "Signs," a cover of the Five Man Electrical Band tune that in 1990 gave Tesla its most successful single. Rock historians credit Tesla's version of that tune, included in a multi-platinum compilation called "Five Man Acoustical Jam," with launching the "unplugged" movement followed by so many bands, some hairier than others, throughout the past decade.
-- Dave McKenna