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Into the now
Tesla and Brides of Destruction resuscitate hard rock

Itís been five years since two key events ó Def Leppardís "Promises" topping Billboardís mainstream-rock singles chart and Poisonís comeback tour packing amphitheaters nationwide ó put the hard-rock heroes of the 1980s back on the map in the US. Scene champs Bon Jovi and Def Leppard have been receiving token airplay for new songs ever since, but most of their peers have been far less successful at getting people to listen to what theyíre doing in the studio. The last few years have seen both Poison and Skid Row, two of the most popular names on the oldies circuit, release new albums that went nowhere on the charts.

So itís a little surprising that Tesla, whose commercial track record lags behind all four of the aforementioned bands, have a current hit on their hands with Into the Now (Sanctuary), their first new studio album in 10 years. When I get Tesla guitarist Tommy Skeoch on the phone from a tour stop in Indiana, he sounds as shocked as anybody. "Dude, can you believe it? I think weíre going to pull a little Aerosmith here. Iím not trying to compare us to them or anything; we were never as big as them. But I never thought we would get back together, let alone write such a great record. Itís pure joy. We still have arguments and everything, but we communicate much better. When things go down, we sort it out. We appreciate it more this time around. Back in the day, I think we took a lot of things for granted."

Radio is a big reason that Into the Now made its recent debut at #31 on the Billboard 200: the first single, "Caught in a Dream," has been holding its own on rock playlists against cuts by acts half Teslaís age. One thing the tune has going for it is familiarity: like the bandís two biggest hits from their early-1990s heyday, the epic power ballad "Love Song" and a cover of the 1970s pop nugget "Signs," itís built on a solid foundation of acoustic guitar and hippie good feeling. Frontman Jeff Keith comes from a generation of hard-rockers who arenít too cool to start a song with lines like "If you can imagine this/The whole world sharing one big kiss." His gritty voice has aged well, and the band trump edginess with classicism, borrowing the trackís psychedelic overtones from the Beatlesí "Across the Universe."

Right now, Tesla are out on a month-long US tour that hits Avalon in Boston on May 4 and Lupoís at the Strand in Providence on May 11. According to Skeoch, theyíre playing a 90-minute set that mixes no fewer than seven new songs in with their greatest hits. "When we first started rehearsing, we were like, ĎDo you think the fans are going to be able to stomach this many new songs?í We just went for it, and man, theyíre singing every song. Itís great."

Tesla have more than enough material to choose from: since emerging from Sacramento with their platinum 1986 debut, Mechanical Resonance, theyíve sold six million albums. In their prime, they rubbed shoulders with hard rockís biggest stars, sharing a label (Geffen) with Guns Ní Roses and management (Q Prime) with Def Leppard. But neither their music nor their image reeked of Hollywood, and that goes a long way toward explaining their longevity. Still, they stopped touring in the second half of the 1990s, when the all-too-common combo of drug problems and commercial disappointments caught up with them. Theyíve been back on the road with their original line-up since 2001, but they decided not to rush themselves when it came to making a new album. Into the Now was recorded at guitarist Frank Hannonís Northern California studio with producer Michael Rosen, who has also worked with Bay Area rock mainstays AFI and Testament. Itís a catchy disc that splits the difference between hard and soft, incorporating modern influences without abandoning the groupís old-school tendencies.

"That was a conscious decision," Skeoch reveals. "We wanted to maintain our identity, not try and come out and be Linkin Park. But we also wanted to be current. Since we broke up, weíve been influenced by all the other bands that have come up. I love Marilyn Manson, I know Frank loves Godsmack. Some of those influences are there, maybe not so direct, but just that attitude. Sonically, it came out great. Michael Rosen just came in to engineer, but he had such great ideas that we ended up giving him a production credit. The record wouldnít have come out the way it did without him."

Primary songwriters Keith and Hannon take the highs with the lows on the disc, which kicks off with the headbanging title track and closes with the somber "Only You." The brooding "Heaven Nine Eleven" dreams of utopia in a world of uncertainty; the bottom-heavy "Mighty Mouse" says the same thing with more humor: "Superman, youíve got to kick that kryptonite/Lord knows, we need some help tonight." "Jeff writes a lot of songs about real personal stuff," Skeoch confirms. "ĎWords Canít Explainí is about how happy he is that weíre back together, ĎInto the Nowí is about what we went through and where weíre at now, ĎOnly Youí is about his ex-wife. A lot of our records are like that. ĎWhat You Give,í from Psychotic Supper, is about his dog. Most people think itís about a woman or something, but itís not."

The Lupoís date marks the first time Tesla have performed in Rhode Island since the horrific fire that killed 100 people at a Great White concert last year. One of the deceased was Northern California native Jeff Rader, a Tesla roadie who died trying to save his girlfriend, Rhode Island resident Becky Shaw. "Itís just awful," Skeoch laments. "Jeff knew Great White, and he had a new girlfriend that he was just totally in love with. He actually made it out of the place, but he went back in to get his girl and didnít make it back out." The band commemorate Rader on the cathartic seven-minute jam "Miles Away": "My friend died today, and itís tearing me apart/If I knew what to say, donít know where to start." The Great White tragedy continues to cast an enormous pall on veterans of the 1980s hard-rock scene. The creative and commercial triumph of Into the Now is an important step in the healing process.

INTO THE NOW shared its March 9 release date with Here Come the Brides, the debut from their Sanctuary labelmates Brides of Destruction. Brides are the brainchild of Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx and L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns, two Sunset Strip legends who are joined here by a pair of unknowns, frontman London LeGrand and drummer Scot Coogan. Their album hasnít generated quite as much excitement as Teslaís, but the curiosity factor is high for their current three-week North American tour, which stops by the Paradise next Thursday.

Nineteen-eighties hard rock has more of a punk edge than itís sometimes given credit for, and when it comes to bands of that era, Mötley Crüe are a close second to Guns Ní Roses in terms of street cred. The first single from Here Come the Brides, "Shut the F**k Up," puts Judas PriestĖstyle vocal histrionics and a glam chorus in front of a piledriving rhythm section. "Doesnít really matter what I do/Iím so sick of you," London shrieks, sporting a mohawk for good measure in the trackís video. The real star of the show is Tracii, who returns to the pop charts for the first time in more than a decade with a hair-raising guitar solo.

All the same, Here Come the Brides is an uneven affair thatís weakened by lo-fi production. Thatís the same problem that afflicted Poisonís recent Hollyweird (Cyanide), and itís an ironic one when you consider the pristine sound of yesteryearís Mötley/Poison radio triumphs. Brides also have trouble reconciling their respective punk and pop sides. "Shut the F**k Up" bleeds into the equally cantankerous "I Donít Care," which revels in sleaze but tries too hard by name-dropping the MC5 and the Murder City Devils. The albumís fortunes improve when Nikki embraces the love for schlock he displayed as the author of Salivaís "Rest in Pieces," which recently earned him a trip back to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in ages. Mötley replacement frontman John Corabi, who played guitar on the disc but isnít an official Bride, joins the songwriting party on "I Got a Gun," a sinister stomp that rocks like Kissís Paul Stanley on a vigilante kick.

London shines on the brash, Extreme-grade funk of "Natural Born Killers," and Traciiís vicious guitar tone and intricate leads are a welcome throwback throughout. Nikki collaborates with pro song doctor Kevin Kadish (Stacie Orrico) on "Life," a middling power-pop anthem that would be in danger of missing the cut on a Darkness disc. Like plenty of supergroups before them, Brides sound great playing together, and they may yet have a classic album in them. But this isnít it.

Tesla perform this Tuesday, May 4, at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-2424. Then the following Tuesday, May 11, theyíll be at Lupoís at the Strand, 79 Washington Street in Providence; call (401) 831-4071. Brides of Destruction perform next Thursday, May 6, at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston; call (617) 562-8800.

Issue Date: April 30 - May 6, 2004
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