Tesla performs ‘unplugged’ at the Midland

Tesla didn’t invent the concept of the “unplugged” concert, but it helped coin it as a legitimate element in any band’s discography. Its 1990 album, “Five Man Acoustical Jam,” a mix of originals and well-known covers, is one of the band’s most successful. One of those covers - of the ‘70s nugget “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band - remains one of Tesla’s biggest hits.

The acoustic concept worked so well more than 20 years ago, Tesla is trying it again. Friday night, it drew more than 1,200 fans to the Midland theater for its Five Man Acoustical Jam and Twisted Wires Tour, a 90-minute show that featured songs from the “Jam” album, acoustic versions of two new songs and another cover of a well-known oldie. The tour is based on the band’s latest album, the self-released “Twisted Wires ... & the Acoustic Sessions,” released in July.

Lead singer Jeff Keith gave the crowd someting to cheer about right off the bat, taking the stage in a Chiefs jersey (Dexter McCluster’s). He would ignite some good-sported ire later, when he showed his real colors, dancing around stage in a Oakland Raiders poncho. (The band is from Northern California.)

The stripped-down arrangements brought out the pop elements of many of the tracks. At times, instead of a hard-rock/metal band, Tesla sounded like a mix of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. Nonetheles, the band sustained a invigorated vibe throughout. The crowd seemed very familiar with nearly everything tossed its way. Even the two new songs, “2nd Street” and “Better Off Without You,” got loud responses. But favorites like “Hang Tough,” “Modern Day Cowboy,” “What You Give” and covers like “Truckin’” (Grateful Dead) and “Thank You” (Led Zeppelin), the snippet of “Kansas City” that opened the encore and the new cover, of the Climax Blues Band’s “I Love You” - played straight and true - elicited the most demonstrative reactions and sing-alongs.

I suppose there are worse things than being so heavily identified by someone else’s song, but none of the preceding numbers ignited the reaction that “Signs” got. Keith sang it with some extra evangelical and melodramatic fevor; so did those in the crowd, as if it the moment were some cathartic sacrament. Like its other covers, Tesla’s version of this 40-year-old song was a lot like the original. There’s no way of telling which band or which era this crowd associated the song with, but that wasn’t really the point. Most of this evening was all about celebrating a form that Tesla helped make famous and laying bare the elements of songs that evoke warm memories.

Setlist: Cumin’ Atcha Live /Truckin’; Into the Now; Hang Tough; The First Time; Thank You; I Wanna Live; 2nd Street; Better Off Without You; Just In Case; I Love You; Modern Day Cowboy; Paradise; Heaven’s Trail; Love Song. Encore: What You Give; Signs.

To reach Timothy Finn, call (816) 234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com