Big, bright, and boisterous. Madison, Wisconsin’s Alliant Energy Center lived up to its name Saturday night, with legendary Tesla opening the festivities, setting the bar extremely high for REO Speedwagon and Def Leppard.
Choosing a setlist full of hits, Tesla broke out with passion and perfection. Leading the charge, vocalist Jeff Kieth danced lightly and swayed playfully, smiling all the while, welcoming a sold out crowd to join in the fun. That the key word- fun- it was contagious. Rock Me To The Top had the heads nodding and the hips moving before the guitars cranked up with Edison’s Medicine and Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out). An early arriving crowd sang the conclusion from the Great Radio Controversy rocker, “I’m on a slick trip, I’m always ready to kick ass.” Drawing the moment out, Keith surrounded himself with guitarists Frank Hannon and Dave Rude, delighting himself and the fans.
The spotlight shifted from Keith to Hannon and Rude as the lengthy intro to Love Song brought couples of all ages into tight embraces. Scanning the scene, it was impossible to find anything but cheer and positive emotion, and Tesla seized on that. Thousands moved side-to-side, some stealing kisses, a few perhaps falling deeper in love at the very instant. And this has what Tesla has stirred in us for 30 years. No doubt, this contributes to the ease with which they transmit loving vibes so freely.
Those in search of a bit of sass and attitude were rewarded with Signs. Working left-to-right, then to the beginning of the long cat-walk, Keith turned his typically blues-tinged voice into gentle dismay and indignant spit, matching the lyrical spin about discrimination and barriers, smacking the ass of Brian Wheat as he swept by. All this, leading up to the harder edged Little Suzi and Modern Day Cowboy (the final track). These tunes, both from the currently celebrated Mechanical Resonance (new album), placed Hannon in the forefront, and dressed in black velvet with a maroon sash and that wild curly ginger hair, he was as thrilling as I remember back in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Heading into the show, the majority of the Tesla talk was obvious. Could they bring the metal energy and drive that fueled their career? How would Jeff Kieth’s voice sound? And, had we seen the best of them years ago? All fair questions. Clearly and emphatically, let me speak for the masses in Wisconsin and proudly testify the power hasn’t waned, Keith’s voice is as full and unique as ever, and Tesla 2016 is alive and thriving. The only question at the conclusion of the show was- why didn’t Tesla play more songs? Exactly.
A night for those who appreciates all degrees of rock, REO Speedwagon played their softer brand of hard rock with surprising vigor. Somewhere around the UW Campus there must be a fountain of youth, as Kevin Cronan bounced around the stage like a teen. Cronan was a busy man, moving from center stage mic to piano, and even grabbing a guitar for one track. He even took the time to call for unity and respect, asking all to practice listening and caring during this time of social and political turmoil.
The soft rock ramped up a notch with Riding The Storm Out, beginning with the trademark warning signal, full of bulk guitar, the rowdiest song of the set. Yet, it was the sing-a-longs and heart-string pullers that truly touched the crowd. At several points, Cronan extended the mic to the crowd, and the return was dominated by female voices. I Can’t Fight This Feeling and Take It On The Run captivated, the sound solid throughout.
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