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Concert review: Tesla at the Newport Music Hall

Guitarist Frank Hannon of Tesla performing to a sold out crowd at the Newport Music Hall
Guitarist Frank Hannon of Tesla performing to a sold out crowd at the Newport Music Hall
Jason Bodak

Tesla in concert at the Newport Music Hall


Too often today, supposed music industry experts are quick to proclaim that rock is dead. One can only guess why these “authorities” are so are eager to consign the genre to the grave, but everyone who saw Tesla Saturday night at the Newport Music Hall can attest just how woefully wrong these critics are. That is, if you were able to get in the venue – it was a sold out show. So much for rock being dead, eh?

Local icons American Dog did a phenomenal job warming the audience up for Tesla, and it’s probably been a good long while since an opening band played to such a huge crowd at the Newport. This was their hometown crowd though, and you knew they weren’t going to disappoint. They were having as much fun as the audience too; vocalist/bassist Michael Hannon mentioned that they’d been waiting all tour to do this, and then led the audience through a couple “O-H…I-O!” chants. Even without the Ohio State cheerleading, it’s hard not to get into American Dog’s gloriously sleazy hybrid of Motörhead and Jackyl. They’re better than almost everything you’ll hear on the Blitz. Hopefully, very soon the band will graduate from local legends to rock royalty.

Speaking of legends, Tesla took the stage 35 minutes later, greeted by a thunderous eruption of cheers and applause. While many of their peers have been relegated to playing roadside bars and pool halls, Tesla is selling out venues like the Newport. There are several reasons for this. While most bands that came up at the same time as Tesla are glorified cover bands today, with only one or two original members in the lineup, Tesla is 4/5th original. They also refused to let the rock media pigeonhole them into the hair metal genre, which was wise because that style of music has not aged well at all. Conversely – and references to the U.S.S.R. aside – the 28-year-old song “Modern Day Cowboy” sounds just as vital and relevant today as it did in 1986. Lastly, and most importantly, Tesla is a well-oiled, heavy-duty powerhouse of a live band. As great as their albums are, it’s on stage where they really shine. And as Columbus saw Saturday night, Tesla has just got better through the years. Jeff Keith sings like Stephen Tyler only wishes he could today, and the rest of the guys are just as good on their respective instruments.

Indeed, there were no pyrotechnics or extravagant light shows on the spartan stage; it was so minimalist that there wasn’t even a backdrop. The band didn’t need any of that though – they relied solely on their musicianship to carry the show. Occasionally, Keith or guitarist Frank Hannon would engage in a little stage banter, but for the most part it was 100 minutes of pure rock and roll perfection. The band opened with their anti-digital call to arms, “MP3,” off their brand new album, 'Simplicity.' Lyrically, the song is exceedingly present-day, but musically, it’s as timeless as anything in their catalog. It was the first of four brand new songs performed, and they all went over very well, something else that’s uncommon with bands that have been around as long as these guys have.

Other than “I Wanna Live” from the recent 'Forevermore' album, the rest of the show was a greatest hits spectacle from the Sacramento band’s golden years. It must be stated here that it’s really unfair to label Tesla an 80s band – only seven of the 16 songs performed were from that decade. In fact, Tesla refrained from playing anything from their iconic debut 'Mechanical Resonance' until the very end, when they pummeled the audience with a three-song blast from that album. The biggest surprise of the night, however, was the obligatory performance of their cover of “Signs.” They began the song acoustically as expected, but quickly switched over to all electric, giving the song a refreshingly harder edge.

Tesla’s setlist:
1. MP3
2. Edison’s Medicine
3. I Wanna Live
4. Hang Tough
5. So Divine...
6. Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)
7. Mama's Fool
8. Life Is a River
9. The Way It Is
10. Burnout to Fade
11. What You Give
12. Signs
13. Love Song
14. Gettin' Better
15. Modern Day Cowboy
16. Little Suzi

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