by Alissa Ordabai
June 25, 2011 at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, U.K.
“To me, that is what separates the men from the boys. To be together though thick and thin and come out OK in the end,” Tom Keifer was telling Kerrang’s Mick Wall back in November 1990, just before Cinderella’s last ever show in London. Or at least it soon began to seem like Londoners would never see them again.
But twenty years on the band is back in the UK’s capital – men who have managed not only to overcome adversity and personal setbacks, but have also learnt how to draw extra strength from hard luck.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after the two-decade wait the expectations are naturally running high. Shepherd’s Bush Empire – one of London’s best theatre venues with 2000-seat capacity – is sold out, and the pre-show buzz is beginning to gather pace already by lunch time. This is when fans start circling the imposing Victorian building in the hope to get a fleeting glimpse of the band. Some kids are hanging by the stage door, some – chanting Keifer’s name under his dressing room window, several shouting that they have traveled to London to see tonight’s show from a different country, or even a from different continent.
Which shows how a great band can not only preserve a loyal fan base in a country where they don’t tour, but also cross generation lines and recruit followers who have never even been at their show. And although in the early days the critics’ cliched perceptions lumped Cinderella into the convenient glam-metal category, their European fans have always known better. Regardless of the flamboyance of the band’s early-days visual imagery and their natural gift for conveying a good-time party vibe, most fans could still tell the difference between musicians who played to express inner realities, and those for whom the music business was primarily that – business.
When Keifer tells me a few hours before the show that Cinderella – in his opinion – have always been true to what was inside them and to making the music that they love, it makes me think of how this approach is now ensuring the band can stay adequate to contemporary feeling. Another reason why Cinderella stays relevant is, of course, the fact that Keifer has always nurtured the roots of his music to ensure its resilience in the face of changing trends and fashions.
“I come from a really heavy blues and roots background,” he tells me. “I think it’s good for a musician and a songwriter to go back. Not to just be influenced by your heroes, but to go back and look at what they liked too, because your vision gets broader and you can interpret it in your own way. A lot of people call us a metal band. I guess some of our stuff borderlines that, but to me we’ve always been a rock n’ roll or a blues-based rock band. Not only musically, but lyrically. That what all roots music was about. It was about real things. And I’ve always written about things that felt real to me.”
The almost retro, blues-inspired sound is what hits you first at a Cinderella live show these days. “Once Around the Ride” was a perfect opener for the London date, setting the tone for the rest of the evening: simple, raunchy guitars, Keifer’s trademark gravel-and-crushed-rock voice, and a functional, yet dynamic approach to maintaining a groove which Fred Coury and Eric Brittingham have now learned to pull off with fluid authority. For the first few moments it was a mild shock to realize how strong the band sounded, how seamless, and how completely devoid of bombast. By no means a warm-up number, the first song was a deliberate message that Cinderella were in London not just to make an impression, but to knock you for six.
Tom Keifer’s stage presence was all about simple, stylish assertiveness: a Les Paul slung like a gun, leather jeans, a scarf, and a confident, easy strut with which he stalked the perimeter of the stage. No inflated moves or exaggerated vocal acrobatics, no pretensions or overkill, just aplomb of a man who knows his purpose. Make no mistake – Keifer can still send a chill down your backbone with a single vocal note, and that unmistakable throat-shredding scream, which no one ever dared to consistently imitate, is still making you wonder – just like in the old days – how much nerve and conviction it really takes for a singer to go all-out with such abandon.
It took the crowd a few songs to gel with the band and to start responding to them intuitively. Cinderella’s platinum-plated party hits became, of course, the ice-breaker. Everyone was raising their hands to the bounce of “Somebody Save Me” and “The More Things Change”, and by “Coming Home” every single person in the crowd was singing along.
But Cinderella’s good-time anthems are, naturally, unthinkable without their opposites – poetic, hauntingly disquieting ballads which Keifer knows not only how to write, but also how to deliver. Light and shadow in his songwriting have always gone hand-in-hand – two indelible halves of his creative personality, one impossible without the other, and each giving the other extra depth. “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” was one such song which drew deeper resonance from the all-hit set list. On par with the aching elegance of “Heartbreak Station” it reminded Londoners that Keifer is, in fact, one of the greatest balladeers of his time who hasn’t quite gotten his due.
Other privileged moments in a Cinderella show are the times when the band is taking detours from their usual faithful-to-the-record renditions of their songs. This time it was the Zeppelin-esque “Second Wind” which lent itself to the free-for-all jam – the climax of the show where Keifer and Jeff LaBar were trading raw bluesy licks on their Les Paul’s, while the rhythm section tried its best to float them with the panache they deserved.
But even when Keifer and LaBar decide to cook up a mini-guitar-fest, it is never at the expense of the audience. Instead of proving a point or intimidating their listeners, Cinderella have always chosen to connect with them. And it is perhaps one of the most striking features of Tom Keifer’s artistic approach – the way he’s almost always kept the instrumental proceedings in the band spare and laconic, yet pulled all the stops when it came to his singing. The voice which from the very start has been the emotional core of Cinderella’s act, to this day remains its central feature, regardless of the setbacks that Keifer had to overcome. And even after all those years you are never quite prepared for the whopping immediacy of his singing, as it catches you off guard, going straight for the gut and bypassing the brain.
And it is perhaps for this reason that you don’t have to be wearing the nostalgic glasses of history to enjoy Cinderella on this tour. Not bowing to trends, they are instantly recognizably as bearers of the basic, indelible values of rock that will never go out of fashion – simply because fashions have no power over such things. The truth of feeling, which is a structural element in rock ’n’ roll, is what this band has managed to hold on to through thick and thin. You either have it, or you don’t, and Cinderella not only still have it, but nowadays put it across with extra meaning added by experience.
1. Once Around the Ride
2. Shake Me
3. Heartbreak Station
4. Somebody Save Me
5. Night Songs
6. The More Things Change
7. Coming Home
8. Second Wind
9. Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)
10. Nobody’s Fool
11. Gypsy Road
12. Long Cold Winter
13. Shelter Me