Shows I’ll Never Forget: Tom Keifer, May 17, 2013

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At Live Oaks Bar and Ballroom, Monroe, La.: I’ve seen Tom Keifer a few times over the years with Cinderella, mostly in arenas and ampitheaters, and always left happy. But none of those shows were quite like the one in store for this night. First, the room had a cool vibe with its brick walls and New Orleans-style gas lamps. Then, there’s the fact that I was about five feet from the stage. But more than that, it was a different kind of performance than what I’m used to seeing from the singer with his main band.

Any questions about Keifer’s voice were put to rest immediately as he stormed the stage with a high-energy version of Cinderella’s “Sick for the Cure,” from Heartbreak Station, sounding just like his old self. He followed that up with a soulful rendition of the Stones-y “Ain’t that a Bitch” and the semi-ballad “A Different Light” from his new record, The Way Life Goes. The crowd packed into the place was rowdy and ready to rock, and Keifer and his band seemed to be feeding off of that.

After a few electric tunes to warm things up, the singer took a different turn, bringing out stools and the acoustic guitar to play a few songs and tell a few stories. Keifer has rarely opened himself up much on stage, and the acoustic mini-set gave fans a chance to see a more personable, and even funny, side of him, as he shared stories and jokes about his songs and career. He drew laughs when he played the first few notes of Cinderella’s hit “Nobody’s Fool” and joked that when he wrote it, he thought, “there’s no way radio will ever play something like that.” He drew cheers when he teased a few notes of “Gypsy Road.” Then he settled into the first song of the acoustic set, one of the first tunes he ever wrote, “Shake Me,” from the band’s debut album Night Songs.

What fans got on this night, though, was not the familiar, brash, three-chord hard rock tune, but a completely transformed acoustic blues version of the song. I thought, on hearing it, that it would be the highlight of the night, but it turned out to be just one of many.

Keifer introduced his wife and co-writer Savannah Snow next, bringing her up on stage to sing “Ask Me Yesterday,” a song that he gives her credit for transforming after telling him that it didn’t have a chorus. When the crowd cheered for Snow, Keifer joked, “you’ll really want to thank her after you hear the song.” And they did, as it seemed to be a real pleaser. Next came the first single from The Way Life Goes, “The Flower Song,” which was obviously more familiar to many in the audience than some of the other new songs. Finally, Keifer closed the acoustic set with a deep cut from Heartbreak Station, “One for Rock and Roll.”

Then the stools were pulled away, everyone plugged back in, and with an ear-piercing scream from Keifer, the band plunged into the other single from The Way Life Goes, “Solid Ground.” It immediately got the audience charged back up, jumping and screaming, and it was a roof-rattling performance. It had the feel of a big, house-rocking encore finale, but things were really just getting started. That led straight to a personal favorite of mine from the new record, “Cold Day in Hell,” which rocked with more intensity than the recorded version.

After the adrenaline burst was over, the acoustic guitars came out again, as did Snow. For the last bit of storytelling on the night, Keifer offered up an acoustic version of probably Cinderella’s most recognizable tune, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” with Snow singing harmonies. The song soon exploded into full electric, though, as Keifer kicked away from the stool and plugged in for the big guitar solo and a heavyweight finale filled with soaring vocal runs that solidified the fact that, despite the paralyzed vocal cord, he’s managed to bring his voice back as strong as it ever was.

Keifer played to the crowd for the next few minutes with a couple more Cinderella classics — “Coming Home,” another big hit from Long Cold Winter, and “Shelter” from Heartbreak Station. The latter had the crowd moving, dancing and singing along, fired up at the performance.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tom Keifer, in an exclusive SER Sitdown, talks with Fred Phillips about the glory days in Cinderella, and his long road back from a potentially career-ending throat issue.]

After a brief break, the band came back to the stage in bombastic fashion, with a huge, roaring cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which owed much more to the Joe Cocker version of the song than the original with plenty of drama, crunching electric guitars and organ sounds. That served as the setup to bring the house down with the final tune of the night, Cinderella’s “Gypsy Road.” As soon as Keifer played the first few notes of the song, which he’d teased earlier, the place exploded, and the band’s performance didn’t disappoint as they ripped through it with as much energy as Keifer’s other band ever has.

Coming from the glitzy performances of Cinderella, this was a different beast. It was more earthy, organic and personal than I’ve ever seen Keifer before. No doubt, he still ruled the stage like a rock star playing to a crowd of 20,000, strutting with the style, swagger and air of a Jagger or Tyler, but he also offered fans a glimpse of an artist that they haven’t seen before — a guy that’s not an unapproachable rock star, but a someone who has had a lot of the same experiences they have and been inspired by them. Keifer’s voice sounded great. He hit the highs. He hit the lows, and he showed off a few things that we’re not used to hearing from him. The band around him was rock solid. It was just a great all-around show.

I walked into the venue with a lot of respect for Tom Keifer as a songwriter and musician. I walked out with a great deal more respect for him. And now you can add showmanship and personality to the list, too. I hope I get another chance to see this show.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips

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