Tea Leaf Green
June 13, 2007
Not everyone can go the American Idol route. Sure, Taylor Hicks toiled away in bars in the South for years before blowing up on national television. However, anyone can try out, and with a good enough voice, get their shot. Bands, though, don’t really have that option.
Tea Leaf Green has worked their asses off to gain fans, and my…how things change over the course of a few years.
The San Francisco rock band’s first date in Memphis was in 2004 when they opened for local act Yamagata at the minuscule Hi-Tone. Fast-forward to 2007 and they’ve graduated to Newby’s, a larger venue, and now they’re the headliners with their name on the top of the marquee.
Tea Leaf Green hits the road hard, and the buzz they generate filled the room for their sophomore date in the Bluff City. They treated the crowd to a great show, perhaps to say "thanks for coming out," or maybe they were just that "on" when they came to town. Logic figures it was a little of both, but the Memphis crowd sure appreciated it.
The band came out of the gate kicking with a great "Red Ribbons" before setting the pace for the night with "Franz Hanzerbeak." Bassist Ben Chambers thumped away as Scott Rager pounded out the beat, and with Trevor Garrod laying down some funky synth, things started to get amped up. Once Josh Clark came in on guitar, all bets as to where the jam would end up were off.
At times spacey, at times straight-ahead rock, "Franz Hanzerbeak" is a vehicle that shows the true nature of Tea Leaf Green – it’s got its tender moments where Garrod tinkles away on the keys. But, blink your eyes for one second and they’re in fifth gear, Clark in full rock star mode, just going to work on his guitar.
There aren’t many musicians that lay it down like Chambers, and do so with such obvious sheer joy. He’s a whirlwind on stage, swaying side to side while dancing, all the while the biggest shit-eating grin on his face as he squeezes sick, low notes out of his bass.
"Criminal Intent" had Clark on vocals for the first time during the show, and the reverb coming out of his amp was straight out of the 1970s, his guitar playing the perfect foil to Garrod’s keyboard. Garrod took a great solo before giving way to Clark’s expert lead work. The subtle interplay between Chambers’ bass and Clark’s guitar was great, and for a second Garrod stopped playing, the band taking on a power trio-like feel.
"Jezebel" was great – after Clark ripped a great solo the tempo changed, driven by the silky-smooth bass work of Chambers. The song built momentum, stopping on a dime as Garrod came in with the lyrics.
Showing their versatility, "Faced With Love" followed. What makes Tea Leaf Green great is that they really are the total package. The musicianship is clearly there, as is the writing. Garrod’s vocals are top notch. Topping it all off is their ability to play both softer songs and straight-forward rockers with the same finesse. Most bands excel at one or two of the areas, but Tea Leaf Green seems to cut it on all levels.
Clark was all over "Hot Dog," really throwing down as the song built and built, again the band shifting gears on a dime, this time down shifting as they broke into "Devil’s Pay." It takes most bands years to be able have that group-mind, and Tea Leaf Green’s already got one, which is fairly remarkable.
"Can’t Get High" showed off Garrod’s voice and the gentler side of the band again, and contrasted well with the subsequent "Georgie P," an orgasmic 10-plus minutes of funk. The set closed with good ‘ole rock and roll in the form of "Morning Sun."
Not much can be said about the encore-opening "Mistletwo," because justice won’t be done in words. The band must have gotten together in the short break and decided to melt some faces, because they did just that. From Clark’s incendiary guitar solo to Garrod’s serene, desperate keyboard solo a few minutes later, it was the best five and a half minutes of the night. The song kicked off with a great guitar solo before quieting down for Garrod’s part, the rhythm section chugging away all the while. Clark gradually came back to the forefront, joining in with Garrod to seamlessly push the jam forward, tension steadily building with each cymbal crash, eventually exploding in one orgasmic release.
After a solid cover of AC/DC’s "Have a Drink On Me," the band closed with "One Reason," and called it a night.
Despite the three years between shows, Tea Leaf Green was made to feel right at home in Memphis, a city notoriously tough on relative newcomers. It says a lot that the room was full of people. Perhaps it was a crowd of vagrants on their way to Bonnaroo (which started the next day,) but the reason is really immaterial. People came out in support of a great band who hopefully won’t take another three years to come back.
Set: Red Ribbons, Franz Hanzerbeak, Let Us Go, Criminal Intent, Don’t Curse the Night, Jezebel, Faced with Love, Hot Dog, The Devil’s Pay, Without A Broom, Can’t Get High, Georgie P, Morning Sun
Encore: Mistletwo, Have a Drink on Me, One Reason
all images by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com