Cubby Bear in Chicago was the last stop on Tom Keifer’s solo tour which also included an acoustic opening set from John Corabi. Both great vocalists and musicians in their own right, the combination of the two made for an amazing evening of talent. The night started with local Chicago band Hot Hot Robot and their 30-minute set got the crowd warmed up for the night’s event.
John Corabi, armed only with his voice and an acoustic guitar, sat center stage for his 50-minute set. Almost immediately, I couldn’t help but notice a resemblance to Johnny Depp. John was wearing a large brimmed hat, shaded round-rimmed glasses, and with his pirate-like mustache/goatee combo, it really was quite uncanny.
Other than his skills as a guitar player, his true talent really comes alive when he sings. Having been around the block more than a few times, the man still has it. The night was a good mix of songs from his entire career and latest album Unplugged. He opened with Love (I Don’t Need It Anymore) from his days with Union which lead into If I Never Get To Say Goodbye from his more recent time as a solo artist. He then told the crowd about the first time he came to Chicago with his band The Scream and asked if Rolling Stone Records was still around. As the crowd nodded or answered yes, he played a song he had played that particular day at the record store. Father, Mother, Son is always a moving tune and I know this song means quite a bit to those that are familiar with it.
One of my favorite parts of an acoustic show are the stories that often times are told and John is an excellent storyteller. He went on to tell us about the time he was in the studio with Motley Crue when they were recording the self-titled release. Quite by accident, but regardless, John had the opportunity to sing his all time favorite song with Steven Tyler. He then played us a beautiful version of the Aerosmith song Seasons of Wither. John asked if everyone wanted to sing along when someone shouted out Hooligan’s Holiday. Someone else shouted out about playing harder. He quickly replied with, “I can only get so hard with an acoustic. ” There were a couple chuckles from the crowd before he actually played Hooligan’s Holiday from the self-titled Motley Crue album.
Prior to John taking the stage, there was a second chair and mic set up next to him and I couldn’t help but wonder who the special guest might be. Eventually John introduced Tony Higbee from Tom Keifer’s band. He played steel guitar on Never Loved Her Anyway, another song from John’s days with The Scream. Fans were treated to two more Motley Crue songs, Misunderstood and Loveshine, before he played another Union song from the Blue Room album, Dead. John has so much material to work with I don’t know how he chooses from night to night. He ended his set with one last tune from The Scream, Man in the Moon, which is always a crowd favorite. After the song ended, he flashed a peace sign before leaving the stage.
There was about a 25-minute wait before Tom Petty’s I Wont Back Down started playing loudly over the PA. After a couple minutes, Tom Keifer and his band took the stage. Tom was all smiles. We didn’t quite know it yet, but Tom came to rock. Guitarist Tony Higbee also came to rock. His energy on stage matched very well with Tom’s enthusiasm all night. Bass player, Bill Mercer, on the other hand was much more reserved. Drummer, Paul Simmons, was super happy, smiling all the time while keyboard player, Paul Taylor, who also pulled double duty on acoustic, was behind a three-tier keyboard set up. Crammed into the corner of the stage, every once in a while I’d see his smiling face from behind Tony. I will say, the band played very well together all night and seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The night started off with Sick for the Cure, a Cinderella song from the album Heartbreak Station, before they launched into new songs from Tom’s recent solo album, The Way Life Goes. Aint That A Bitch and A Different Light seemed to go over well with this Chicago crowd.
Chairs were brought out on stage and Tom, Tony, and Bill all sat for an acoustic portion of the set. Tom told us a story about the first rock song he ever wrote. It was 1980-81 and he was sitting on his Mom’s front porch in Springfield, PA playing a new Les Paul that she had bribed him with to get out of high school. He said he tried a couple different things back then, (at the same time he played a couple familiar notes from Cinderella songs) but said he didn’t think those sounded like a hit so he kept moving on. The crowd laughed over this comment.
He continued that it was when he noticed a girl walking down the street, with quite the walk on her, if we knew what he meant, that the line “shake it don’t break it” popped into his head. He started strumming those chords and said that was how he wrote Shake Me. Tom mentioned he was going to play an acoustic blues version and even though the words were the same the music was a little different. I definitely enjoyed this slower, bluesy version. Especially hearing Tony on that same steel guitar from John Corabi’s set. Who doesn’t love the blues in Chicago?
I think it was a surprise to most, including myself, when Tom brought his wife, Savannah, on stage to help sing on another new song, Ask Me Yesterday. He mentioned that she had written a lot of the songs with him on the new album and even talked about how she had written the chorus for this particular song. He told us he had been writing the song with someone else, but it wasn’t finished. After Savannah heard it, he told us she said, “You’re missing the best part, which is the chorus.” So she wrote that portion of the song and the rest is history. I must say, her voice sounded beautiful singing along with Tom’s. Watching them look at each other while they sang, you could definitely tell there was a special connection between the two of them.
Tom asked how many people had heard The Flower Song. After cheers from the crowd, he mentioned that songs meant different things to different people. To him, this song was about three things. He mentioned a scenario that involved a beautiful woman, he talked about finding your one true love and lastly, the best meaning behind the song came from a 7-year old girl. The song was simply about flowers. Enough said. Early on during the song he broke a string but he handed it off to a guitar tech and continued singing. When the song was over he commented that it was weird for him to not be playing guitar for that song. Tom continued that he wanted to play something from Heartbreak Station. Now while Tom and Bill were still sitting, Tony was now standing due to having to play both electric and acoustic. Paul also played acoustic and they ended the acoustic portion with a Cinderella song, which included one of the best lines from a song, “as long as I’ve got Rock and Roll, I’m forever young.” Indeed.
They were back full force with two more new songs, Solid Ground and Cold Day in Hell and the crowd seemed really receptive. Once again, Savannah came back on stage and with everyone sitting once again, Tom told another story. This time he referenced 1985, when they were working on the Night Songs album, working the graveyard shift due to a small budget, going in at 7:00 pm and leaving at 7:00 am. At the time, he thought to himself, “Life’s pretty good right now. But what if all of this went away?” It was then that he started writing a song about what that might feel like. They began Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) as an acoustic song but ended it with them switching to electric and really rocking out the last part of the song.
They closed out the night with Coming Home and my personal favorite song, Shelter Me. They briefly left the stage but when they came back out, Savannah also joined them to sing back up with Bill. Tom did an amazing and very passionate cover of With A Little Help From My Friends. As the band started the song, Tom slapped hands with fans. Without his guitar and while holding the mic at an angle and often times his hand on his hip, Tom was really able to channel a soulful vibe not to mention some powerful vocals. He even dropped to his knees at one point right in front of the crowd.
Early on in their set, a couple fans were yelling out a particular song. The last song of the night was met with many, many cheers from the crowd as they ended their almost 90-minute set with Gypsy Road. Whether Tom was sitting down during the acoustic portion and telling stories or playing his electric guitar while showing off his trademark facial expressions along with his mesmerizing stage presence, the crowd kept wanting more. Song after song, Tom and the rest of his band delivered. If you missed out on this last run of dates, be sure and keep an eye out. I can’t imagine Tom stopping this Rock N Roll train any time soon.