Tesla has always been a great rock band. Unfortunately, they have always been coupled with many of the "hair" bands they toured with during their commercial peak. Yet, Tesla was always musically a level above their contemporaries; they had an edge to their sound that differentiated them from bands like Poison. Their breakout hit, "Love Song" was an anti-ballad as it served as more of a rock anthem rather than a syrupy sugar coated love ballad. In my mind, they left any notion they were a hair band in ashes when I saw them live in February 1992. The band was playing a sold out show to twelve thousand Chicago faithful at the UIC Pavilion. What I witnessed that night was more than electrical combustion, but a show so inspired and insane, it has forever remained in my memory. I only saw two other shows that year; one by Kiss and the other was U2's Zoo TV tour. The sweat and blood Tesla poured on the stage that cold night in Chicago outdid the brilliant-yet over the top production of U2's top grossing tour and Kiss' pyrotechnics. It still remains to this day as one of the preeminent live performances I have ever witnessed. On that night, Tesla went beyond their own abilities and gave two hundred percent of themselves. It was such a landmark show that months later the band was quoted as saying it was one of the best shows they had ever performed.
Shortly after the release of their gold album, "Bust a Nut" in 1994, the band went their separate ways. However, they were eventually able to bury the hatchet and get back together in 2000 for a tour that would last the better part of two years. To my surprise, they played to sell out crowds everywhere they went. Granted, these were no longer arenas, but clubs and theaters. However, the speed with which the shows sold out stunned me. In Chicago alone, the band sold out four shows within a few months time. The tour was documented on the outstanding "Replugged Live" cd from 2001 (released on Sanctuary Records). The shows and live album proved Tesla had not lost a step during their five year break. With renewed confidence in their ability to play together again, they went underground for a year prepping what they called their "comeback" album. Now, every single eighties act that has vanished only to return with a new album has usually fallen on their faces, and not gracefully. In all honesty, I did not think Tesla would make an album that could even touch their previous efforts. I've heard the albums Warrant, Poison, and others eighties counterparts put out and each one jumped the shark. Each of these albums was completely uninspired. They simply tried to reconstruct something that could not be re-created. Too many bands try recreating the same music, or changing everything they stood for. Surprisingly, Tesla managed to forgo all of this and simply went ahead with a clear vision and have created an extraordinary album, "Into The Now".
I received a press credential to the Chicago show at the last minute and had yet to receive "Into The Now", therefore, I was going to be hearing this new material for the first time. To my great surprise, the band arrived on stage and for the first time in their careers; "Cumin' Atcha Live" was not the opener. "Into The Now" was the first bookend of an evening that would largely showcase the new album. Following the opener, Tesla ripped through the classic hit from their debut disc, "Modern Day Cowboy". The next three songs ("Mighty Mouse", "Solution" and "Look At Me") would come off "Into The Now". At first I thought this was suicide, it's never good to inundate an audience with too much new material all at once. However, something happened during these fifteen minutes. It was more than miraculous, it was surreal-I watched 1400 people feeling like the new songs were baptizing them, a rarity for any rock act. The crowd was mesmerized by these new songs. I looked around and saw jaws flapping up and down, as each of these people knew the lyrics to an album that had been out for only ten days. I guess the sold out crowd at the Vic Theater are a large part of the reason "Into The Now" debuted at #31 on the Billboard chart just two days earlier. One may say this chart position is not impressive, but for a band associated with rock from a period now forgotten, it's extraordinary.
After the onslaught of "Into The Now" songs, the band settled in and treated the crowd to a handful of timeless favorites. The emotional tribute to the late Steve Clark of Def Leppard, "Song & Emotion" received a big chant of approval from the crowd. Next up, the bands biggest hit, "Signs" saw everyone in the place singing and bouncing up and down. It is rare for a cover version to be the definitive version of a song, but many don't realize it is a cover and those who do can't tell you who sang the original, a compliment to how good Tesla's version really is. The acoustic driven "Little Suzi" followed which helped bring howls of ovation from the crowd. "What You Give", "Love Song" and "Heaven's Trail" all followed in succession to the same roars of approval from the Chicago crowd. It was at this moment where I realized that while the audience was much smaller than it was twelve years ago, very little had changed. The crowd was savoring each and every minute of it and the Chicago crowd was clearly electrifying the band. They were singing along with first single, "Caught In A Dream", like it was one of their classic hits.
The main set ended with "Heaven Nine Eleven", inspired by the events of 9/11 and I must say it was a fantastic closer as the emotions ran high as the band's delivery of the song was devastating. You could feel the intense sensations in the crowd as the band tore through the song. At its conclusion, those who were not applauding stood there with their mouths agape. Even though over half of "Into The Now" had been performed, the crowd treasured it. Any artist who tours behind a new album has the issue of overplaying it instead of fan favorites, but somehow, Tesla managed to do both with elegance. With "Into The Now" Tesla is in a league with Bon Jovi and Def Leppard as an eighties act who has survived the post grunge explosion with grace.
For the encore, "Got No Glory" was the lone song performed. The audience ate it up, yet when he band took their bows and left, there was a sense that something was missing. I and many others in the audience felt there was a void that had not been filled. It was like a porn film without a money shot. It was odd to end the show with a new song; especially considering how many classic songs the band did not play ("Call It What You Want", "Hang Tough", "Getting Better", "Stir It Up", "The Way It Is"). What was shocking is that Tesla had the audience in the palm of their hands for their own wielding after only one hundred minutes. They had the audience in a trance and could have taken them to the next level...the kind of echelon they took us to back on that cold February night in 1992, where twelve thousand people felt the band went beyond what they were capable of. However, a dozen years later, Tesla fell a little short of that previous benchmark. I walked out of the Vic astonished at how well the "Into The Now" material was received, but could not help but feel the band missed an opportunity to tattoo the show into each of the fourteen hundred people's minds by going the distance. Hopefully the band will rectify this on their next round of headline dates. My advice to the band- next time skip the meet and greet and get on stage twenty minutes earlier. This extra time will fill that hole of those who want to hear those classic album tracks and at the same time-take the audience to the next stratum. I come from a school where I want to see the performer go beyond what they are capable of; in my book it's not what you got, but what you give.
- Into The Now
- Modern Day Cowboy
- Mighty Mouse
- Look @ Me
- Song And Emotion
- Little Suzi
- What You Give
- Miles Away
- Love Song
- Caught In A Dream
- Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)
- Mama's Fool
- Heaven Nine Eleven
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