Going (Tea Leaf) Green in Atlanta

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Tea Leaf Green
Variety Playhouse
Atlanta, Georgia
January 16, 2009

San Francisco-based Tea Leaf Green’s latest tour stop in Georgia was a show of segues on many levels. 

Just a few days prior to this bitterly cold night in Hot ‘Lanta, the boys segued off the high seas as a part of the floating festival known as Jam Cruise and onto solid ground, where they began run of shows through the South.

The show also marked the segue into a new and exciting era for the band, as stellar bassist Reed Mathis is now full-time with TLG after announcing his departure from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey shortly into the new year. The last time the band rolled through Atlanta, friend and frequent collaborator Steve Adams (Animal Liberation Orchestra) was temporarily guarding the groove. On this night, whether ushering in tunes with a silky-smooth bass line or orchestrating improvisational madness, Mathis shined throughout, a new star burning bright as he cast light on why he is to be a integral, inseparable element of this band for years to come.

tlg-a.jpgIn addition to the aforementioned ethereal transitions, this night was all about segues in the show itself. The jams were simply insane, freak-outs bordering on mind-fucks. Every single > on the setlist was exceptional. It was a fiery performance that rode a wave of energy and built a wall of sound that propelled the band to new heights and pushed the raucous crowd into a frenzy. There were a few lackluster moments – deviations into an overly popish, teeny-bopper sound and a mediocre encore – but for the most part, the band was so in sync, so on fire, that it almost hurt — hitting hard like a good TLG show should.  

Tea Leaf Green moved through opener “Slept Thru Sunday” before keyboardist/singer Trevor Garrod greeted the following “Faced with Love” with a sweet, swirling intro on harmonica. The band first hit full stride with “Reservoir,” a number that puts the band’s best foot forward, featuring excellent songwriting marked by abstract imagery and evocative emotion with arrangements structured to showcase each member’s superb musicianship yet leave plenty of room for fierce-yet-soulful exploration. The poppy “Standing Still” came next, then the classic rock-tinged “Arise.” 

The following “The Garden (Part II)” is where the show really kicked into high gear, a tasty harbinger of a sick show. Swirling organ waves kicked off “The Garden” and the band didn’t let the pedal off the floor for the remainder of the first set. Mathis laid down a nasty reggae groove into “Don’t Curse the Night.” The light show matched the insanity this point, burning retinas with flashes of blue and green before haunting darkness that allowed enough backlight to cast the band as the mad musical scientists that they are.

“I’ve Got a Truck” featured the first stand-up sermon by the angelic Garrod of the evening, though he warned of “devils on my doorstep,” that paradox and duality that is one of the best hallmarks of the band’s themes. Weaving traces of “The Garden (Part II) back into “Kali-Yuga” allowed for excellent jamming, and the set-closing cover of The Beatles’ “Ticket ro Ride” was a fitting crowd pleaser. Set-break music over the PA included Ween’s “Bananas and Blow” to keep the spirits strong

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The second set thrilled throughout, starting off with guitarist Josh Clark’s lovely low-brow romp, “Relax” with its refrain “and get naked.” Crazed instrumental work marked “Devil’s Pay,” and emotions bounced from sweet to manic in “Get It On” and by “Feel Nothing” the band was in full rage mode, Garrod on top of his keyboards and Clark shredding it to pieces. The tempo slowed a bit for a bluegrass version of “Ode to Nature.”  

Georgia boy and Perpetual Groove guitarist/frontman Brock Buter then took the stage, a fellow Jam Cruise pirate with the TLG gang. The crowd erupted upon Brocks’ entrance to the stage, with Clark jokingly asking, “You know this guy?” Clark and Butler went toe-to-toe like heavyweight sluggers as  they ripped through a cover of Crosby Still and Nash’s “Wooden Ships,” their collective chops coming through like sinister footsteps that crept with great force into “Criminal Intent.”  

Brock departed the stage and the band moved into the excellent “Vote on Tuesday,” which was an excellent launching pad for a flawless intro into the final song of the set, “I Got No Friends in Arizona.”

tlg-b.jpgThe band must have shot their wad during the second set, as the encore of “Keep the Faith” and “Red Ribbons” lacked the fire of the amazing second set. But, moments such as the magic cooked up during the second set far outweigh any shortcomings in the show. This gig at the Variety Playhouse found the band with growing popularity in Georgia, judging from a larger, more-energized and in-tune crowd than their last stop at the Variety.  

One of the most succinct descriptions of Tea Leaf Green in these pages remarked years ago surprise that the band hailed from San Fran instead of the South because their swagger and soulful songwriting exudes qualities that, quite frankly, we don’t give credit to anyone from outside the South of possibly ever possessing.

But you can’t define this sound of the current incarnation of TLG. It’s a strange, untamed and beautiful beast. Youthful exuberance now blends nicely with a weary wisdom gained through a decade of hard touring. With Reed fully committed, they are capable of harnessing an amazing energy, a raw and unrefined power with moments of melodic poetry that is the essence of a rock and roll band.  

Set I: Slept Thru Sunday > Faced with Love > Reservoir, Standing Still, Arise, The Garden (Part II) > Don’t Curse the Night > Jubilee > I’ve Got A Truck, Kali-Yuga > Ticket to Ride

Set II: Relax > The Devil’s Pay, I Try So Hard, Gasaholic, Strange Ode to Nature, Earth and Sky, Let Us Go, Wooden Ships > Criminal Intent, Vote on Tuesday > I Got No Friends in Arizona

Encore: Keep the Faith, Red Ribbons

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