Tom Keifer At The Canyon Club
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By Tim McPhate
Agoura Hills, Calif.
On one hand, Tom Keifer is certainly no stranger to fans of '80s rock given his standing as the frontman for Cinderella, the multi-platinum group known for hits such as "Nobody's Fool," "Gypsy Road" and "Shelter Me." However, in a way, Keifer is one of the better-kept secrets from the era. With a unique gravelly vocal style, an ability to play multiple instruments and a knack for penning songs that range from AC/DC-inspired loud rock to gritty blues numbers and introspective acoustic ballads, the scope of Keifer's talent runs far and wide.
The Pennsylvania native trekked to Southern California on May 2 to launch a tour in support of his newly released debut solo album, The Way Life Goes — which, true to Keifer's musical blueprint, weaves a range of emotions, influences and styles. For his tight 14-song set, Keifer played six songs from the album while sprinkling in a dose of favorites from the Cinderella catalog.
With a four-piece band in tow, Keifer kicked off the set with "Sick For The Cure," an up-tempo gem from Cinderella's underrated 1990 album, Heartbreak Station. "Wasted all those years, never gettin' any younger/Times kept a changin', but I still got the hunger," he sang, a seemingly fitting passage given Keifer's solo album was in the works for more than a decade. Keifer's hunger for music certainly cannot be disputed given that he has recovered from a vocal-cord surgery he underwent in 2006. (The singer engages in hours of voice exercises daily to maintain his vocal health.) The moody solo album cut "A Different Light" found Keifer in fine voice as he nailed the chorus' falsetto vocal and ably navigated the song's twisting melodies.
Keifer seemed extra comfortable during the acoustic portion of his set, which began with a down-and-dirty bluesy arrangement of the Cinderella classic "Shake Me." Keifer brought to the stage his wife Savannah, a contributing songwriter and co-producer on The Way Life Goes, to sing harmony on two of the quieter numbers from the album, "Ask Me Yesterday" and "The Flower Song." Both songs showcased an underlying Rolling Stones influence, mixing elements of country, blues and acoustic rock. As Keifer explained, the sweet sentiment of the latter song's chorus doubles as a message to his wife: "When it comes to forever/You know my heart is true/Of all the pretty flowers, baby I picked you." The acoustic set closed with "One For Rock And Roll," a dynamic tune containing a simple, uplifting message: "As long as I've got rock and roll, I'm forever young." Yes, indeed.
Keifer strapped on a Gibson Les Paul to pick back up the electric portion of the set. "Solid Ground," a single from The Way Life Goes, showcased a patented Keifer scream and his greasy slide guitar technique while on the rollicking "Cold Day In Hell" he brandished a harmonica and belted out some earthy flourishes. Later he worked in a spirited cover of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends." Keifer's "friends" on this evening included not only his wife Savannah, but drummer Paul Simmons, bassist Billy Mercer, guitarist Tony Higbee, and keyboardist/guitarist (and Winger alumnus) Paul Taylor.
Cinderella's Long Cold Winter, an album celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, was represented with a trio of songs: "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)," arguably one of Keifer's finer-crafted songs, benefitted from a melancholy acoustic arrangement before going full-on electric for Keifer's emotive guitar solo; "Coming Home," during which Keifer played to the crowd like he was in an arena and reached back for everything he had vocally; and "Gypsy Road," which proved a fitting closer as Keifer and band settle in for the grind of the tour: "My gypsy road can't take me home/I drive all night just to see the light."
If his bold solo album and the opening night of his tour are any evidence, it looks as if Keifer is certainly standing on solid ground.
"Sick For The Cure"
"Ain't That A B****"
"A Different Light"
"Ask Me Yesterday"
"The Flower Song"
"One For Rock And Roll"
"Cold Day In Hell"
"Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)"
"With A Little Help From My Friends" (Beatles cover)
To catch Tom Keifer in a city near you, click here for tour dates.