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Tesla at the Midland: ‘Pure, plain and simple’ rock ’n’ roll

Members of Telsa include (from left) Dave Rude, Troy Luccketta, Jeff Keith, Brian Wheat and Frank Hannon.
Members of Telsa include (from left) Dave Rude, Troy Luccketta, Jeff Keith, Brian Wheat and Frank Hannon.

Tesla opened Tuesday’s concert at the Midland theater with a cranky screed addressing the technological changes that accelerated the band’s transformation from a top-tier attraction into hard rock also-rans.

The digital revolution decried in the new song “MP3” has diminished the band’s bottom line as shifting tastes have eroded Tesla’s popularity.

The sour tone of the opening selection was misleading. Rather than devolving into a bitter exercise in unappealing nostalgia, the remainder of Tesla’s 95-minute set was unflaggingly cheerful and surprisingly vital.

Formed in California almost 30 years ago, Tesla has long been overshadowed by Guns N’ Roses. While the more significant band is guided by the notoriously erratic vocalist Axl Rose, the down-to-earth personas of the members of Tesla have played a significant role in the band’s endurance.

A slow-and-steady approach rarely wins the race in rock ’n’ roll, but Tesla’s low-key consistency attracted about 1,500 fans to the Midland on Tuesday.

The energetic front man Jeff Keith suggested that his band’s sound was “pure, plain and simple.” That’s an accurate encapsulation of Tesla’s sensibility. Supported by rudimentary lighting and almost no production enhancements, the quintet relied on outsized charisma, convincing talent and memorable songs.

Tesla may be best known for “Love Song,” one of the best power ballads of the 1980s. Tuesday’s rendition of the hit opened with a pretty classical duet by guitarists Frank Hannon and Dave Rude.

Keith’s raspy vocals resembled the buzzing of an impertinent mosquito as he delivered the sensitive selection. His unusual instrument was even more effective on blunt rock songs like “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out).” The durable mainstream metal track from 1989 allowed Hannon and Rude to flash their impressive techniques.

The guitarists also shone on a rendition of “Mama’s Fool.” The searing 1994 rocker served as a reminder that Tesla provided an excellent substitute for Aerosmith after the latter band traded rock for pop.

Members of the band made a few self-deprecating jokes about their ages and increased girths. After Hannon made a couple of playful forays into the audience during “The Way It Is,” he expressed gratitude that a “chiropractor did a good job on me today.”

Tesla’s refreshing optimism — best displayed Tuesday by “Gettin’ Better” and “Hang Tough” — fell out of favor when grunge took hold in the early 1990s. Tuesday’s bracing outing indicated that the exuberantly talented Tesla should never have gone out of style.

SET LIST

MP3; Edison’s Medicine; I Wanna Live; Hang Tough; So Divine; Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out); Mama’s Fool; Life is a River; The Way It Is; What You Give; Signs; Love Song; Break of Dawn; Gettin’ Better; Modern Day Cowboy; Little Suzi

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