25 April 2008

Review: Tea Leaf Green

Highline Ballroom 18 April 2008

Yes, one week later, but still...

Seems like I'm gonna be lucky to get out or have the energy to go out once a week from here on out, so guess it's time to make 'em count. So why Tea Leaf Green? Well, why not? I've seen the band once or twice and thought they were a "nice" time, certainly. But not sure they had grabbed me completely. Enough people I know and respect seem to get their rocks off on these guys, though, that I felt they deserved at least one more shot to sink their teeth in. When I got an offer I couldn't refuse from the Gadfather (image cred above to his iPhone) to rock out with our proverbial schlongs out in all our pre-Pesach glory... well, I couldn't refuse.

You know what? I think maybe I got it, or at least some of it. It took a lot of whiskey and crowd brimming with glorious energy, but I had a fucking blast. I do think it was the audience inside the Highline that really did done it for me. I got there midway through the opening set from Hot Buttered Rum (String Band). They were a bit slick for me, but still a decent bluegrass set. Trevor Garrod from TLG sat in for a couple tunes including a nice take on Dylan's "Don't Think Twice." But as I grabbed a drink at the bar, I was kind of caught in the ebb of the people in the room. Beyond a thin partition of standers, there was a river of bobbing heads flowing back and forth in front of the stage. What's that? People dancing? I forgot such a thing was possible at a live music show, but I quickly remembered that it was once commonplace to see such behavior wherever I went. It struck me that possibly I had changed my musical migration habits more than the feet of those out and about suddenly becoming leaden... but I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just old? Yeah, that's probably it. Anyhoo, from that point I could kind of feel it was going to be a good night as the sleepiness of the week wore off with a few sips of whiskey and a smile of recognition came across my face: "Oh yeah, I remember what it's like to dance at a show. That used to be me." Things were in synch -- the fiddle player for the band was (anachronistically) wearing a, I believe, Thierry Henry soccer jersey, so that every time he turned around I could see the name "Henry." It was The Boy's birthday on Friday. Excellent.

After a short changeover, the lights went down and Tea Leaf Green took the stage. I can't speak to song titles or whatnot, although the setlist was easily found over at their website. The set started similarly to the other time or times I've seen them. Kind of a song-oriented 4-piece lead by Trevor on mostly an electric keyboard, occasionally ripping guitar solo, etc. In some ways, they remind me of Rana -- like the West Coast version, except instead of a deep kind of Talking Heads undercurrent to the music, they give me a Bruce Hornsby feel. But about 2 or 3 songs in, things got a little louder, a little nastier and a little more involved. It was around that point that I felt something move, like George Costanza after pigging out on some fresh mango.

Somewhere in there they transformed from a nice little rock band to something with a little more meat. Basically, they started jamming. Not wanky noodling, but good old fashioned flesh-eating-guitar rocking out. Garrod spent ample time on a more Rhodes-y electric piano that brought out a little more life in the music and Josh Clark brought things to another level on his axe. While the big disappointment for me Friday night was learning that Reed Mathis would not be playing bass (and I stress big, that could have brought things next level for me), the fill in was Steve Adams from ALO who did just fine.

From there on out, it was all pretty raging and just felt good. Was it wasn't some sort of mind-bending, life-changing experience? Would I use any word ending in "-est" to describe any part of the show? No and no. But the night hit me where it counts and that's all that matters. Like I said, I had a fucking blast. Around an hour into it I had to ask the more indoctrinated "they're playing two sets, right?" Good. Shortly thereafter they busted into The Band's "Ophelia" with the Henry-jersey wearing goofball on fiddle joining in. That was sweet. These guys are well-suited to play covers by The Band, no doubt about that and this version probably bettered the one Panic does which I've never been 100% enamored of.

Second set seemed a lot dirtier and messier and a whole lot more fun. That could be some sort of direct correlation with my bar tab, but I think that's the way these things are supposed to work. We got another appearance by that fiddle player, but mostly things just got a whole loopier and stretched out. There weren't crazy prog jams, just well-played, tight-knit build-and-release jobbies that the crowd surfed and crashed with again and again.

Up to a point, I was doing a pretty good job getting absorbed by the music and playing socialite which is a necessity when you barely see the people you always used to see. But at some point something snapped in my brain and I felt like I was 19 again. I cruised my way through the popcorn popper that was the crowd in front of the stage and the next thing I knew I was happily planted DFC just a man off the "rail." Not sure what possessed me, but old habits die hard and these guys had a little of that old school magnetism in them. Of course, good old fashioned jamming gold always shines brighter in close proximity, some sort of inverse square law, so while maybe Tea Leaf Green was holding steady, it seemed exponentially sweeter from in close. From there it was easy to gauge the interaction and the smiles and the reactions to each phrase and lick. Better yet was catching a wave of something as it built and then riding it to fist-pumping glory. Man, fun fun fun. The crowd was a joy to be immersed in. Just taking it all in, anticipating the climaxes and pulsing as they got there. You can take all your technical proficiency and Berklee-level composition (and you know me, I do and I do), but that's what makes live music live, ain't it?

So, seder notwithstanding, I didn't feel inclined to return the next night [although I note they covered "Green Eyed Lady" which I'd like to see them play]. One night of Tea Leaf Green was plenty. But rest assured, I will go out of my way to catch them next time through town... hopefully with Mathis in tow (no offense intended). I'd recommend the same.

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