Tesla Keeps It Real In Ashland, Kentucky

Some things are made to last. Lovingly labored over by skilled and dedicated artisans, constructed from the sturdiest materials via techniques passed down through the generations, designed to function for lifetimes. In an ever-increasingly inauthentic and disposable world, it’s a sad truth that these monuments get rarer by the day. Fortunately some still stand and shine brightly, and people come from miles around to bask in the familiar, perpetual glow, the warmth of a known and trusted tradition.

This was doubly the case on March 1, as a crowd of over 1,400 filled the seats of Ashland, Kentucky’s historic Paramount Arts Center to veteran road warriors Tesla. For nearly forty years,  the Sacramento outfit have offered a distinctly heartier, more classic flavor of hard rock than many of their more elaborately coiffed and attired peers to the south on Sunset. No hiding behind gimmicks or controversy, no media-manufactured image or backstage backing tape sorcery. Just five hard working musicians, locked in tight and cranking out their brand of heavy-duty, zero-bullshit rock and roll for a legion of loyal fans and true believers.

Cincinnati native/self-professed “crazy motherfucker” Kurt Deimer handled opening duties, bringing the room to its collective feet with his radio-ready brand of bombast. The horror actor and his crisp, whip-tight backing band tore through songs like the anthemic “Hero” and “Dance” (which sounded like a nu metal run through an imaginary outtake from KISS‘s Revenge), throwing in a cover of the Pink Floyd classic “Have A Cigar” for good measure. Deimer and his four-man unit did an admirable job winning over the audience; when his forthcoming debut double album is released, a return trip to the area may be in order.

As “Crazy Train” faded from the speakers and the house lights dimmed, Tesla bounded onto the boards with a vengeance, kicking off with “Lady Luck” and then landing the one-two punch of “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Hang Tough.” The fifteen-song setlist progressed through fan favorites like “Love Me,” “Changes,” and “Gettin’ Better,” newer works “Miles Away” and “Time To Rock,” and the majority of their biggest hits, era classics like “Edison’s Medicine,” “Call It What You Want,” “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out),” and the inevitable roof raising sing-along “Love Song.” By the time the evening ended and the crowd was sent home happy with “Signs” (what else?), most everyone appeared well and truly spent, their throats a little sorer but their hearts a little fuller.

Vocalist Jeff Keith positively beams the whole night, an unending smile underlying the fact that he remains one of the genre’s singular voices. That sandpapered rasp remains intact, a bit weathered by the years but no less potent. Frank Hannon is every bit the old school guitar god, stalking the stage and throwing shapes in the spotlight. Between the theremin and the talk box (seriously, more bands should use the talk box) and the endless array of vintage guitars, he came off like a more casual Jimmy Page, with cargo pants and sensible shoes instead of a black silk Dragon Suit. His co-shredder Dave Rude was a solid, heavy presence, and their dual lead work brought to mind the finest of Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest. And the only person in the venue with a smile bigger than Keith’s may be the newest member of the Tesla family, drummer Steve Brown. Brown and his rhythm section cohort, bassist/co-founder Brian Wheat, provided a firm foundation and a mile-thick backbeat all night long, well-trained craftsmen masterfully plying their trade for a rapt and adoring public.

Tesla has always been and very much remains a band out of time. In a day and age where some of the biggest acts in music are simply and sadly incapable of performing without varying forms of technological assistance, for a band to boldly emblazon NO MACHINES across their merch is damn near a revolutionary statement. This tour is called “Keeping It Real;” Tesla has been doing just that since 1986, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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About Robby Coleman

"I like Rock and Roll, and I don't like much else." - John Lennon

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