by Michael McCarthy
all photos by Michael McCarthy except Bad Marriage
I was under the impression that The Cringe and only The Cringe would be opening for Tesla when I left for the show at the legendary Casino Ballroom on Hampton Beach in New Hampshire last Friday night, April 19th, 2019. When I arrived at the venue and learned that another band was going on first, I was a little frustrated because I was eager to see The Cringe and Tesla and didn’t feel like seeing another band before them. But then a funny thing happened. Bad Marriage hit the stage and blew me away not two minutes into their set opener, “Gateway Drug,” displaying the sort of high-energy, vivacity that many bands are lacking these days. More importantly, the song had killer hooks and impressive solos. I wasn’t in the photo pit, which is why I don’t have any live photos, but these guys hit the stage looking like genuine rockstars.
With their long hair, tattoos and wardrobes featuring leather pants, bandanas sticking of their back pockets, wallet chains, etc, they looked more like a classic Metal Edge poster come to life than some heavy metal vets I’ve seen during recent years. Except for drummer Michael Delaney, who had short hair and was just wearing a T-shirt. (Looked like it might’ve had the name of a sports team on it from where I was sitting.) He hit the skins hard and sounded like a veritable rocker who belonged in the group – keeping excellent rhythm along with bassist Todd Boisvert – but he did stick out compared to the others, who’d clearly gone out of their way to acquire excellent stage attire and must have spent a significant amount of time getting decked out. They were a perfect opener for a Tesla show because that’s the band their hard rock/heavy metal sound reminded me of most, though they clearly owed a debt to Van Halen and Motley Crue as well. With the twin guitar attack of Mike Fitz and Ian Haggerty, there was never a dull moment as they blazed through six originals, including “Knock 3 More Times,” “Ready Aim Fire,” “Old School Stereo,” and an invigorating cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” that would’ve done Steven Tyler and the guys proud. And tying it all together with a perfect knot was charismatic lead signer Jon Paquin, whose powerful voice was like a mix of Robert Plant, Joe Elliot and Axl Rose. He had impressive range and also displayed excellent stage presence, the audience eating out of the palm of his hand and singing along whenever he asked them to, which was often. Suffice to say, I was taken aback by this band, who’d be perfect for Frontiers or Rat Pack Records with their perfect blend of hard rock and heavy metal. When they left the stage, I was dying to hear more and by the looks of it, so did the rest of the house. I actually found myself thinking, The Cringe and Tesla have a lot to live up to – and it’s quite rare that I see a local band I’ve never heard of and find myself that impressed.
Next up was The Cringe, who are a band I’d only discovered recently when I received a press release stating that they’d be opening for the great Tesla. I figured, if they’re good enough for Tesla – one of my favorite bands – then they’re good enough for me. Well, it turns out they were more than good enough. I was mighty stricken by their extensive catalog, which was packed with infectious jams that lingered in my head long after I listened to them. I found it a bit bizarre that they seemed to only open for old school heavy metal bands when their sound is a bit more in the modern, indie rock vein, but as frontman/guitarist/songwriter John Cusimano explained when I interviewed him earlier last week, they go where the opportunities present themselves. That said, with their sixth album, Everywhere You’ve Never Been, having just been released on the day of the show, I’d been wondering why they weren’t headlining their own shows yet. As soon as they took to the stage and immediately captured the audience’s attention, I found myself wondering about that again. Especially since one of their heavy metal tours was opening for Motley Crue for two years on the band’s final tour. Between that and opening for other bands like Ratt and Queensryche, surely they’ve had enough exposure that people would come to see them headline. And they have far more tunes than they need to fill a set.
As John Cusimano’s voice drew people closer and closer to the stage, getting them crammed in like sardines, I found myself thinking that they’d be perfect for Saturday Night Live. Their new album has 13 songs that could all be singles – it’s that damn good – the only trouble would be deciding which two to play. One of the highlights of their set Friday night was their song “In God We Trust,” during which they broke into Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and played most of the classic before shifting back into their own song. If any Tesla fans weren’t amazed by The Cringe yet, they certainly took notice when they whipped out Sabbath. I usually don’t like it when bands play bits of other songs during their own songs, but in this case it really worked, the two songs blending together as though they were written to be played like that. Plus, they played more of “Paranoid” than most bands play of whatever song they’re interpolating, so it felt like they’d covered the whole song, whereas other bands do such short portions of songs that it just feels like they’re teasing the audience.
While Cusimano was the focal point of the band, mostly standing center of the stage as he belted out their infectious tunes, lead guitarist James Rotondi was equally dazzling as he worked the fretboard masterfully, nailing some fantastic solos. He’d previously played with Air and Mr. Bungle, so I knew he was an experienced player, but I hadn’t realized that he was the lead guitarist in The Cringe. That only hit me the first time he started soloing and my jaw practically hit the floor because he was that stirring. Oh my God, this guy is good, I thought.
For me, the highlight of The Cringe’s set was “I Can’t Take It No More,” the vibrant and ultra-catchy lead single from the new album. It was obvious that the band was thrilled to play it for the crowd, their eyes lighting up as soon as they started performing it. But for the metal heads, their closing set cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” was probably the high point and a damn fine cover it was.
I sincerely hope that the next time I see The Cringe it will be at one of their first headlining shows because they definitely have the talent, catalog and longevity that merits top billing. And I’m sure they have a strong enough following, too. But should they opt to continue being an opening act for some odd reason, I’d love to see them tour with younger bands like The 1975, The Killers or Wolfmother so that the more modern aspects of their songs can be exposed to non-heavy metal audiences, who just might appreciate them even more than the metal crowd.
I could barely contain my excitement as I waited for Tesla to hit the stage after The Cringe’s set. You see, I’ve been a fan of Tesla since they first appeared on Headbanger’s Ball in 1986 with their song “Modern Day Cowboy.” One thing I’ve always admired about them is how they’ve always put the emphasis on their music, their image almost being an afterthought. Sure, there were a lot of Tesla pin-ups back in the day, but you didn’t see them doused with as much make up as circus clowns like most of their peers. And one got the impression that they wore the clothes you saw in their photoshoots even when they weren’t performing. They seemed like real dudes. A lot of my friends at the time called the bands I was into “posers” because they only listened to thrash or hardcore, but they never said that about Tesla. In fact, one of the biggest thrash fans I knew actually liked them and he didn’t care for any groups that one might call “hair metal” or “hair bands” nowadays.
I’d seen the guys live seven or eight times when I was younger and they were headlining theatres and arenas. Every time, I was blown away. I’ve never had any doubt that they were the best live band of their generation. But the last time I’d seen them was probably 15, maybe even 20 years ago, not by choice but because during all that time they never played in my neck of the woods or I always found out about the shows after they’d already happened. Had they been around regularly like Warrant or Motley, I’m sure I would have seen them 16 times by now. As it is, the show at the Casino Ballroom Friday night was sold out so the band is going back to the venue September 14th and I’m sure I’ll be there.
As with just about every Tesla show I’ve ever been to, it began with their guitarists – Frank Hannon and Dave Rude – coming out on stage and noodling around for a minute or two. They were followed by bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta. It felt like 20 minutes passed before vocalist Jeff Keith casually walked out on stage, the audience roared and they launched into “Cumin’ Atcha Live.” It’s a song that hails from the band’s debut album, Mechanical Resonance, and if ever there was a perfect song to open a show with, it’s that one. If some of those in attendance couldn’t remember the lyrics to the verses, they sure as hell remembered the chorus, which damn near everybody in the large club screamed along to. I don’t think there was anyone there who didn’t know all the words to the next song, “Modern Day Cowboy,” because everywhere I turned, everyone seemed to be singing along to the entire song. And this enthusiastic singing continued as the band performed two songs from their sophomore album, The Great Radio Controversy, “Be a Man” and “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out).” As their next few songs were mostly from newer records that the nostalgia freaks in the audience have probably never heard, there was less singing along, but then the band’s last seven songs were all classic hits except for the single “Shock” from their new album of the same name (which certainly deserves to be a hit). The audience certainly devoured it as the guys did “Call it What You Want,” “What You Give,” “Edison’s Medicine (Man out of Time)” and other favorites. They closed the show with their cover of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” which a surprise hit for them, hailing from their 1990 live album, Five Man Acoustical Jam.
One thing I found interesting about Tesla’s performance was how they worked the stage. Obviously, Luccketta remained behind the drum kit all night, but during most of the show Wheat remained standing right in front of the drums, only occasionally coming to the front of the stage. Meanwhile, guitarists Hannon and Rude were all over the place, rushing from one side of the stage to the other, keeping the audience’s excitement level even higher than it would’ve been with their top notch performances alone. The interplay between the two was wonderful, too, and their solos never failed to strike home runs. Not only that, they knocked it out of the park. As for Keith, he worked the entire stage but was mostly front and center as he belted out song after song, never failing to miss a note, proving that his voice has aged better than those of most peers. More importantly, his enthusiasm for the material was contagious. And when it was time for the guys to do their guitar solos, he respectfully stepped to the back corner of the stage, letting them bathe in the limelight.
Throughout the show, it was obvious that the guys still play their songs with pleasure. They’re loving what they do. Some bands of their ilk are just going through the motions much of the time. Performing because it puts food on the table. And I can respect that. But Tesla are still having lots of fun on stage and it’s refreshing to see.
If you’ve ever been a fan, you owe it to yourself to check out their new album, Shock, which is all killer, no filler, just like their classic records.
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