Waxing Nostalgic Cover Albums: Tesla, Real to Reel

Published on July 3rd, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin

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Imagine going back in time to 1975. You’re at a rock and roll club on the biker side of town. Your dad is young; his polyester shirt is unbuttoned down to his navel. His gold chains shine like treasure amidst the jungle rope vines of chest hair he proudly displays. His straw cowboy hat encases his skull like a crown. He pounds down a Schaefer in this bar, filled with Tareyton smokers who would rather fight than switch. There’s an underlying aroma of the sweet leaf. You sit down at his table. He leans in and speaks to you.

“The band’s about to start, kid,” he says. “I’ve been into these guys for a while.” He raises his hand and almost immediately, a blond in a halter top is pouring a beer into your proper Pilsner glass. Feedback begins to bleed from the slightly raised stage. The musicians begin to tune their instruments. The drummer taps his snare cautiously and pounds out a quick bass rhythm.

“I bet they start with some Deep Purple,” your dad says. He takes a surreptitious bump of coke and waits for the band to get going.

The singer approaches the microphone. “Good evening, everyone,” he says, “we’re Tesla, and this is ‘Space Truckin’.'” Your dad nods knowingly. Tesla? What the hell is Tesla doing here?

Before you can begin to figure out the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, the band rips into the tune, fully embracing the goofiness of the lyrics about meeting groovy people on Venus or whatever.
Your dad knows every song. When Tesla hits “Hand Me Down World” by The Guess Who, he pounds his almost empty beer glass on the table in rhythm, singing along with the chorus. The singer sees your dad. He points at him and smiles. Your dad has been here before. This is his world, his space and time.

A few minutes later, the familiar open D chord of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” begins. Your dad burps softly and excuses himself. “I always piss during Zeppelin,” he says. “Don’t know why.”

It’s been a solid set so far. Tesla sounds better than you thought they would. Okay, maybe that cover of “Walk Away” by The James Gang turned into a Crybaby pedal battle. There’s only so much wah wah one person can take, and that was a little overbearing.

Your father returns and leans over to you. “You gotta remember,” he says, “all these songs are a manifesto. This is speakers bigger than your bookshelves. This is amplifiers and pre-amplifiers and receivers that weigh 20 pounds, turntables and styluses with diamond needles. Our big sounds and our desperate need for a way to be totally mellow while still stomping upon the terra like the gods we were meant to be now, can you dig it? Can you grok that heavy shit?”

Your mind runs back to a place where you were young. It rummages through a vinyl collection on the bottom shelf of a mahogany bookshelf. Your memories are there and Tesla continues to bring them to life. Their setlist is your past. You remember late nights, trying to stay awake so you could hear the music playing softly in another room from underground radio stations, a magical format they used to call “AOR,” where nobody gave a shit what the hits were.

Tesla roars through “Day of the Eagle,” and you can see the cover of Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs. You wonder briefly if anyone besides you remembers Uriah Heep, and Tesla does the sweet, slow wind-up through “Stealin’.” It all seems like the real thing, even if you know it isn’t.

This isn’t a collection of cover tunes. It’s a time capsule. It’s a bunch of guys remembering what it was like to be in awe of rock and roll; it’s feeling that primal power rattling your little brain, expanding it and blazing unnatural neuron pathways. You feel like Richard Dreyfus, staring at that goddamned pile of mashed potatoes, knowing it all means something, and it is bigger than you, and feeling a sucking sense of loss for something you didn’t know you had.

The set’s over. The band is packing up and the bar is beginning to fade from whatever reality you’re in. Your dad opens another beer. He gives you the double guns, thumbs up and forefingers outstretched. He says nothing, only nods.

You wonder what hellish disappointment he felt when the Eighties came along and rock and roll got clean and shallow. It’s probably the same kind of despair you felt when Ace of Base came out.

The show is done. That time is gone. The songs remain the same, sure, but it matters who sings them, and how. This is something Tesla realizes. Real to Reel reconstructs that time period like true believers building a temple where the energy of rock is a god and the songs hover about like dark angels, vibrating, waiting for someone to have the balls to reach out and sing them again.

Maybe the next person who sings them should be you.

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