When Mechanical Resonance was released in December 1986, I was pretty much certain it was a seminal moment in rock n roll, like that of The Beatles’ landing at JFK, Van Halen‘s debut release, or Adam Ant’s performance at Live Aid. It has always been something of a disappointment to me to know that, according to much of the rest of the world, in fact it wasn’t.
In May 1987, Tesla played a live show at The Marquee in Wardour St, London. I had a pound off voucher from Metal Hammer Magazine and went along, ignoring an Aerosmith-style band who were about to release their debut album and were playing the same venue at a similar time. That other band turned out to be Guns n Roses. Talk about seminal moments in rock n roll…
The Marquee club was a tiny venue in Wardour Street, Soho. The walls were as black as the souls of a Norwegian death metal band, or perhaps a Sun journalist. A facade at the front containing the ticket booth allowed you to enter the room within. It was the sort of place where you could get close enough to put your beer on the stage, if only you could push past the seething mass of people all trying to do the same. Bearing in mind this was the eighties, the biggest obstacle to avoid was other people’s hair. There wasn’t enough room to swing a cat, although it was rumoured that many had tried. It was just that sort of place. As with many of Soho’s clubs, by the end of the evening, the floor would be sticky underfoot. (Uniquely for the area, at the Marquee that tended to be due to spilled beer).
Picture a dingy pub right outside a football ground a half hour before kick off on a hot day and you’ll get a good idea of what it was like most nights. It was so small the music was always loud. The Marquee also had a fine heritage. The Who, Hendrix, The Rolling Stones (and so many others) had played there.
So when Tesla played this debut London show, the look on the band members’ faces that night as the crowd sang back every word of their debut album was that of astonishment. I saw that look a couple of times with US bands who played in London with low expectations, only to be blown away by the fervour of the crowd. It’s a wonderful thing.
I stumbled out of this sweat-box of a venue at the end of the night and turned to a friend who had a startled, exhausted look on his face. “That was good wasn’t it?” he said with some understatement. He was right.
Over the next year, I played Mechanical Resonance inside out, admiring it’s electrical-themed cover, firmly considering its mix of Led, Def, Van and Bad (Zeppelin, Leppard, Halen and Company respectively) to be a towering work of staggering genius, an artistic statement perhaps only ever equalled by Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” – or perhaps Val Kilmer’s understated lead role in “Top Secret”.
Clearly I was youthful and inexperienced, but there is something rather special about this album.
In style, it is straight ahead “classic rock” as the term is now, so its appeal to you now will depend upon your appetite for such things. They were a blue collar, honest to goodness rock n roll band with a singer called Jeff Keith who, so the story went, learned to sing whilst driving his truck, a drummer called Troy Luccketta, guitarists Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon and a bass player called Brian Wheat, who sounds like he was born on a farm and would have been one of Mumford’s sons if only he’d been born twenty five years later.
They were into CCR, covering Lodi on a later album, and dressed like them too – setting themselves apart from the eighties glam metal fraternity. If you look up the phrase “No nonsense” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Tesla in there. But tracks like “Cumin’ Atcha Live” which began with a bubbling twin guitar dual and rapid-fire drums, “Modern Day Cowboy” (perhaps the standout track from the album), plus psychedelic closer “Right Before Your Eyes” raised the album above more workmanlike efforts by other, better known bands of the time.
Less than a year after that Marquee show, Tesla supported Def Leppard at Hammersmith Odeon, and from my front row perspective wiped the floor with them.
Can we truly describe Mechanical Resonance as “lost”? Although it never charted in the UK, Tesla went on to have good success in the US with their second album “The Great Radio Controversy” which went double platinum. Third album “Five Man Acoustical Jam” coincided with the start of the MTV “Unplugged” trend. A couple of studio albums of decent quality followed before the band split after the release of ’94s”Bust a Nut”, only to reform in true rock band style in 2000. They continue to tour and plan to release a new album in 2014.
In the meantime, this will always be my favourite of Tesla’s records, and I think there’s probably a few of us out there for whom this album “Resonates” strongly….
Record #220: Tesla – Cumin’ Atcha Live