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LONG-HAIRED FREAKY PEOPLE (AND BALD JOE THE PLUMBERS) NEED APPLY FOR TESLA

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WHEN: Wednesday, February 11, 2009
WHERE: Scout Bar, San Antonio, Texas
WHO: Tesla

By the time Tesla’s 1986 debut record Mechanical Resonance was released, this Old Fart had fallen far down the metal rabbit hellhole, migrating from the chick-friendly hair metal stylings of Motley Crüe, Ratt, and Black ‘n Blue to the not-so-chick-friendly thrash growls of Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.

Having moved on from wearing torn black fishnet armbands for the Crüe at The Summit in Houston to trying to avoid getting killed by a mob of angry skinheads at a Fearless Iranians From Hell gig at The Ritz in Austin, the last thing I ever expected back then was to have my head turned by a seemingly second-rate Bon Jovi wannabe group. I mean this was the same year the world was inundated with Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, Cro-Mags’ The Age of Quarrel, and Watchtower’s Energetic Disassembly. But Tesla’s aural introduction to the world reminded me why I got into hard rock and heavy metal in the first place – rocking guitars, soaring vocals, and infectious-as-hell choruses will always do the trick.

Twenty-three years later, however, I have plummeted even further into the abyss as is evidenced by my Top 10 list from last year – Jucifer, Trinacria, Matriden, The Berzerker – these are not common household names with chant-along verses that make women rock out and big burly dudes scream about love. Subsequently, I was not expecting much from Tesla, despite the fact that 2008 was The Return of the Old Fart with everyone from Testament to Heaven and Hell to Mickey Rourke making unbelievable comebacks.

I am happy to report that Tesla most definitely receive the Old Fart seal of approval.

After a forgettable opening band that found it necessary to cover everything from ten seconds of Pantera’s “I’m Broken” to the entire Mr. Mister track, “Broken Wings,” Tesla took the stage at San Antonio’s newest addition to a burgeoning hard rock/metal scene at The Scout Bar which is owned by Thomas Wilson, former keyboardist/vocalist for the industrial dance band, The Hunger.

Tesla was greeted with an overwhelming response from the sold-out crowd of more than 800 eager rock fans who were, in turn, greeted by four of the band’s five original members, plus a new, young second guitarist named Dave Rude.

Amazingly, the band looked great and no worse for wear and, more importantly, they sounded fantastic. Even more surprisingly, they didn’t trot out the big hits from the get-go. Instead, impressively, they won the crowd over with newer material including the title track to their latest, self-released album, Forever More.

Of course, Tesla knew what many in the crowd were there to hear – “Modern Day Cowboy,” from the aforementioned Mechanical Resonance, sounded just as powerful now as it did nearly twenty-three years earlier. Inside the club it sounded as if 20,000 fans were roaring their approval. So, three songs in, Tesla had the crowd eating out of their hands and could do no wrong for the next hour-and-a-half.

The remainder of the set consisted of several classic Tesla rock songs such as “Hang Tough,” “No Way Out,” and “Love Song,” mixed in with newer cuts such as “Pvt. Ledbetter” and “So What!” from Forever More. The flow between the two distinct eras was seamless and the band was in rare form with vocalist Jeff Keith singing his Janis Joplin-cum-Bon Scott whiskey-soaked scratchy blues vocal style with passion and intensity I never felt from him back in the day. Lead guitarist Frank Hannon seemed to be having a blast on stage going from his Angus Young Rosewood SG Gibson to his mounted acoustic guitar to his onstage keyboard to his double-neck 12-string/6-string combo axe and playing everything influenced from Led Zeppelin to Van Halen to Nine Inch Nails.

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Tesla brought several aspects of a live rock show that many younGRRRRRRRRR bands forget about these days: catchy choruses, guitar solos in every song, Deliverance-style dueling guitars segments, multitudes of guitar pick tossing, a bit of honest showmanship, and, basically, a lot of fun.

The latter was spotlighted with an intense crowd-sing-along to their biggest hit “Signs,” where the “long-haired freaky people” and bald Joe the Plumbers all congregated at the altar of bad ass hard rock. In addition, nods to Jimi Hendrix’s electroblasted “Star Spangled Banner” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” brought out the 21st century equivalent of the Bic lighter with cell phones aglow.

Tesla closed out the set with a blistering version of “Comin’ Atcha Live” from Mechanical Resonance which invigorated the crowd to demand their mid-week encore. Of course, the band dipped into their debut one last time for the classic “Little Suzie,” leaving the crowd drenched and satisfied.

I was not expecting much from Tesla, but they fucking rocked the joint.

Corey Mitchell is a best-selling, critically acclaimed author of several true crime books, the founder and co-editor of In Cold Blog, a former expert crime blogger for the Discovery Channel’s Investigation Discovery, and not sure what to make of the fact that the Friday the 13th remake was #1 at the box office this past weekend.

All photos © Loryll Bailey

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