Viper Alley- Lincolnshire, IL - February 22, 2013
Respect is something missing from the music industry. An artist's worth is often determined by someone with a fraction of their talent. In an alternate universe, Tom Keifer would have as much respect as Jack White or Ryan Adams but because he was born out of a time where images were burned into our brains; his ubiquitous talents have gone unnoticed by the larger public. Keifer is more than just a singer with a few platinum records under his belt but a multifaceted musician whose talents confound. Last summer when he was on tour with Cinderella I witnessed him play a harmonica, saxophone, acoustic, electric and slide guitar all within a ten-minute period. He may work a concert stage with the same physical concentration as Steven Tyler but his musical prowess is just as arresting. Those who have chosen to judge a book by its cover have missed out on a deep and rich body of work that still fills theaters and amphitheaters to this very day.
On April 30th of this year, Tom Keifer will release his first solo record, The Way Life Goes. The record is the result of a decade of writing, recording and allowing the songs to ferment until everything was just right. It's being carefully shepherded by Merovingian Music which was founded by industry veteran Jack Ponti- whose own history with Keifer goes back to when Bon Jovi had Cinderella open for them on their Slippery When Wet tour. In advance of the upcoming album, Keifer went out on an extensive solo tour of clubs and the Chicago stop proved to be more than an pleasing evening of music but a absorbing and insightful expression from an artist whose heartbeat thumps loud and hard within. Watching Tom Keifer on a concert stage isn't a nostalgia trip, but a captivating study of the history of rock n' roll. Keifer may have made his mark as the leader of a hard rock band, but his grasp on the blues and early rock n' roll is masterful. Opening his ninety-minute set was the Heartbreak Station cut Sick for the Cure, Keifer and his four excellent backing musicians dispensed a collective sound that was tangibly tuneful. Throughout the decades, Cinderella's sets steered towards their hits and best known cuts while the vastly underrated deep cuts like Sick for the Cure are relegated to the history of time. But on the small Viper Alley stage, he took this song back. This wasn't someone willing to sit around and cash in on the past but an artist wanting to weave new tales revealing unforeseen miracles of fascination.
Half of The Way Life Goes was performed throughout the show and if the record is half as good as the live performances, Keifer may find himself on several year-end lists. Ain't That A Bitch included a Keith Richards guitar groove straight out of 1971 with Keifer supplying the six-string fireworks on his Gibson Les Paul. A Different Light was blissful and warm as Keifer strummed his acoustic like it was a campfire sing-a-long. Ask Me Yesterday was co-written by Jim Peterik (best known for co-writing Eye of the Tiger), who also happened to be in the audience watching on. Keifer's wife Savannah assisted on the rewrite and came out to perform the song. The Flower Song was surrounded by exquisiteness; a tale about finding the beauty of another person to share one's life with. The song found middle ground between Gram Parsons and the Eagles that is both breathtaking and ageless. Solid Ground featured a wicked guitar solo with a nod to Jimmy Page while Cold Day in Hell found Keifer blowing his harmonica loud and proud like Little Walter. Despite little familiarity with the songs, each song felt instantly familiar, a testament to the strength of the songs.
The solo tour isn't just about promoting his new solo record but also for the first time, featured several stories from Keifer about his catalog of songs. The arena anthem Shake Me was inspired by watching a girl walk down the street when he was a teen in Springfield, Pennsylvania as he was trying to write a song on his Les Paul. He broke the song down to its core, taking the audience forty miles south of the venue in a cold, damp and smoky room on the south side of Chicago. One thing I am certain of is that you can't fake the blues, it's either embedded in your DNA strand or it isn't. It flows through Keifer's veins. If Tom Petty or Ryan Adams had reinvented one of their most celebrated songs this well, it would be noted as brilliant.
One For Rock and Roll was a song, written in 1990, that Keifer always tried to rock up but it never worked. He wrote it as a country song and that it remained. Another lost song from Heartbreak Station that could be a distant cousin to Torn and Frayed from the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. This was a song that I fell in love with on a cold November Tuesday in 1990 and as days, weeks, months and years have passed, the song has collected quite a bit of dust, but thankfully Keifer shook it off for this solo tour. There are probably hundreds of songs from my past I hold dear, but for one reason or another, we lose our grip on them as they fade into the night. Watching Keifer perform it I was reminded that all it took was one performance to remind me this song has stayed in my heart for all of eternity. Anyone acquainted with the Cinderella discography knows of Keifer's love of the Faces and Rolling Stones whose influences bled through in the best possible ways on Heartbreak Station from 1990. If Rod Stewart had recorded this album, every mainstream rock magazine would have given it a five-star review. Cinderella was one of the bands who filled my mind with abundant curiosity. There is no musical patent on the world of musical wonder and watching Tom Keifer it was evident he hasn't lost the love either.
The evening would not have been complete without a few stone cold Cinderella classics and Keifer didn't disappoint. Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone) began on acoustic before is slowly segued to a full-blown electric version. Keifer's guitar solo was distressing yet tender and earnestly expressive. Keifer finds the emotional creases and crevices in these songs that have been heretofore unexplored. Make no mistake the song is a ballad through and through, but the vocal and guitar solo substitute bombast for passion taking us to a wounded and fragile place. Coming Home, Shelter Me and Gypsy Road furthered the journey flexing not just his talent but reminding us there has always been more to Keifer than meets the eye. He was writing cross-over country hits before the suits knew what to do with it. Tom Keifer is an artist full of gravel road soul who performs with every ounce of his being.
This is something that anyone with an open heart and mind must respect and hopefully for those who still hold on to misguided judgments from the past will finally see the light when The Way Life Goes is released later this spring.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMusic DOT com and can be followed on Twitter