Ever since they popped my gig going cherry, I’ve always had an extremely soft spot for Tesla. That was on a hot sticky August night in Dublin in 1987 when the Sacramento Rockers opened for Def Leppard on the opening night of their Hysteria World Tour.
Words: Brian Boyle
The venue was the 1,000 capacity famed, but grubby, SFX Centre on the northside of the city. Not exactly Madison Square Garden, but salubrious concert surroundings were alien to me anyway.
But the minute the double denimed, bare chested Jeff Keith raced out of the traps and launched into ‘Cumin Atcha Live’ this then fifteen year old mullet headed Dub was hooked.
So much so the next day I sacrificed the bus fare home to make sure I secured their debut album ‘Mechanical Resonance’.
Three years later Tesla took a slight detour and released their mainly unplugged live album ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’ recorded at the Trocadero Theatre in Phillidelphia, Pennsylvania. It was fourteen tracks consisting of a selection from their first two releases, the aforementioned first album and ‘The Great Radio Controversy’ plus a tasty bunch of covers.
And back in June 2019 they visited the iconic Abbey Road Studios to record ‘Five Man London Jam’ as a homage to it’s 31 year old parent release.
Don’t be thinking it’s a nostalgic reenactment though, the band are now six studio album’s older, and guitarist Tommy Skeoch is fourteen years gone from the band with Dave Rude filling the roll since. But there’s still plenty of familiarity to stir the memories.
It’s as you were with the opening blend of ‘Cumin Atcha Live’ and The Grateful Dead’s ‘Truckin’, with the former’s honky tonk reworking still cutting the mustard. Even though they were only preforming to a handful of punters, doing a version of The Beatles ‘We Can Work It Out’ in it’s birthplace may or may not have been a nerve-wracking experience.
But either way, they rose to the challenge. Jeff Keith is sublime and totally at one with his surroundings.
When you think of Tesla in acoustic form, the massive sound of ‘Signs’ will most likely spring to mind. Obviously this version doesn’t have the rough ‘n’ ready spontaneity of the Phillidelphia performance, but the best course of action is to pretend they’re playing just for you in your sitting room, then soak up an electric vibe.
When the dust eventually settles on Tesla’s career, the powerhouse ballad ‘What You Give’ should go down as one of their finest moments, and if you thought the original version couldn’t be topped then prepare to have every hair on your body standing to attention with this mammoth rendition.
New boys ‘California Summer Song’ and ‘Forever Loving You’ get a bit of blue collar treatment and sound exactly as they should, which is very welcome after the fluffy production Def Leppard’s Phil Collen dished out on the latest album ‘Shock’.
The always moving ‘Paradise’ has to be one of the most underrated songs ever written, it just never fails to stop you in your tracks. The silky guitar combo of Rude and Frank Hannon, complimented by Brian Wheat’s simplistic ivory tickling, fits right at home between the hallowed walls of Abbey Road.
I must admit being a bit fearful over how feverent rocker ‘Call It What You Want’ would translate in this domain, but it ain’t half bad in fairness.
Keith puts his heart, soul and guts into every word, but it’s a tune best served electric.
No such fears with it’s ‘Pscychotic Supper’ stablemate ‘Stir It Up’. It’s Zep persona was born to be played in a no frills, kicked back mode.
As for their signature tune ‘Love Song’, well the ‘Acoustical Jam’ performance did benefit greatly from having 1,200 patrons providing extra vocal back up, but once Hannon’s mind blowing solo let’s rip the comparison stops.
It’s not everyday you get the chance to sell your wares in such a celebrated space, but you can really feel the band going for it in the songs climatic finale.
It’s safe to say the foundations took a right Californian rodgering. Thirty nine years since their formation and Tesla continue to make your Rock ‘n’ Roll endorphins flow, and they’ve done themselves proud with this display.
A day in the life of the Sacramento fab five that really is quite something.
Track Listing :
Cumin Atcha Live/Truckin
Tied To The Tracks
We Can Work It Out
What You Give
Californian Summer Song
Forever Loving You
Call It What You Want
Stir It Up
Into The Now