Gig review: TESLA – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 16 June 2019

Gig review: TESLA – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 16 June 2019

No surprise to see a healthy crowd in on this damp Sunday evening to see Wayward Sons. The band has been cutting a noteworthy profile since its establishment in 2016 and already a second album is in the can.

‘Don’t Wanna Go’ and ‘Be Still’ kicked off the set in typically punchy, direct, hard rockin’ style. Toby Jepson commanding the attention, belting out full throated lyrics and chucking his Flying V about.

By the time ‘Alive’ came along, the band grabbed the opportunity to stretch out and it quickly became apparent that lead guitarist Sam Wood is a serious talent. He laid down some gorgeous, fluid breaks on this track and stamped his authority on everything he played.

More than this, Wood looked like was loving every minute. Indeed the whole band attacked the set with energy and vim. Jepson, with a top table cv led the band well and worked the audience like a real pro. This was a good show.

Newsboy-capped and long-time Jepson wingman, Dave Kemp brought his keyboards to the party with some lush rumbles of organ on ‘Alive’ and percussive undertow to new track ‘The Joke’s on You’.

‘Crush’ crashed through on a fat sub-Zeppelin riff, with Nic Wastell and Phil Martini cooking up a sweet, tight rhythm and Wood splashing around in waves of bluesy lead guitar. The mood carried through with ‘Small Talk’ and another new track, ‘As Black as Sin’.

Wayward Sons have all the ingredients to take a significant step up from support slots like these. The band has Jepson’s talent for crafting driving hard rock with tasty hooks and a healthy attitude. The sound builds on a Little Angels (of course)/Thunder heritage, freshened up on tracks like the brilliant set-closer ‘Until The End’ with shades of Massive Wagons in energy and vocal delivery. This show would be a hard act to follow.

And so it proved. Tesla were – at least initially – pretty flat in comparison to the barnstorming support. A shame, because set opener ‘Tied To The Tracks’ is a good cut from the band’s even better latest album ‘Shock’. Second up ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ from their debut, and arguably best collection, ‘Mechanical Resonance’ also suffered a surprisingly tepid reception.

A muddy sound didn’t help, producing riffs that were lacking bite and muscle. Though the lead work from both Frank Hannon and Dave Rude was scintillating throughout. Take the former’s hair-raising slide intro on ‘Be A Man’ and the follow up ‘Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)’.

Maybe the crowd (the venue was far from sold out) didn’t warm to frontman Jeff Keith who largely left inter-song banter with them to Hannon; and who sidled off to the back of the stage during instrumental passages.

Keith’s voice, always gravelly, was as rough as a badger’s backside and way off-key on more than one occasion during the first part of the set. This didn’t help the mood. When one begins to notice the precision of the drummer’s fills and the effectiveness of the light show, clearly something is wrong.

Nevertheless, the band stuck to its guns and began to turn the tide. Surprisingly, mid-paced tracks like ‘Breakin’ Free’ with some dirty guitar and ‘Tastes Like’ went down well. ‘Miles Away’ featured one of the best closing solos of the night.

‘Changes’ mixed things up and as another classic from ‘Mechanical…’ it clearly connected with the crowd. Then Hannon wheeled out the double necked guitar out for ‘Stir It Up’ and even though ‘Call It What You Want’ was a little muddled, the band made its biggest impact so far with ‘What You Give’. Keith was out front making flirtatious comments and flashing his Californian smile to reveal teeth bright enough to blind half the crowd. He managed to cajole a good sing-a-long though.

The band were on a roll by now and ‘Edison’s Medicine (Man Out of Time)’ kept the feel-good mood bubbling on the big chorus.

In a rare interaction with the assembly, Keith told us that the band had been recording material in Abbey Road studio and by way of a Beatles tribute, we were treated to a rendition of ‘Blackbird’, before Hannon picked out the opening notes to ‘Love Song’.

Live staples ‘Little Suzi’ and ‘Signs’ brought the show to a close – no encores – in something approaching triumph, though it had been a struggle. The gig didn’t entirely capitalise on Tesla’s strong back catalogue, but credit to the band for working hard and producing a half-decent show.

Review by Dave Atkinson


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