Tea Leaf Green
September 5, 2010
Stonehenge? Unexplainable. People who still think Barak Obama is Muslim? Doesn’t make any sense.
Tea Leaf Green’s Memphis crowd growing ten-fold without having set foot in the city in over three years?
This assessment is no indictment on the band, who is rock-solid from every angle; it’s more a Memphis issue. The city supports its own local acts and does a good enough job of showing up for national acts, but when it comes to smaller touring bands…well, it’s hit or miss – usually a huge, Mighty Casey whiff.
Thus it was a pleasant surprise to have upwards of 300 people fill Newby’s when Tea Leaf Green returned – they last played Memphis the summer of 2007 with between 25 and 50 people there. It may have been a perfect storm of circumstance – a fairly popular local band, Dova Grove, opened the show and it was a holiday weekend, but the crowd clearly knew the material. Most likely, Tea Leaf Green has gained the traction in a market to warrant the attendance that they deserve and certainly get in other cities.
There are few bands touring on the jamband circuit that are the total package, bands that have the songwriting chops, the instrumental prowess, and the vocals. Most lack in at least one area; Tea Leaf Green does not…in fact, finding a flaw is nitpicking. While the band has clearly morphed over the past, turning from a jam-heavy outfit to one more driven by songs and lyrics, they still deliver each time out.
Despite touring behind their 2010 release Looking West, the band opened with the older "Morning Sun" and had the crowd going from the jump. Tea Leaf Green has really gelled since bassist Reed Mathis came aboard, and he brought a certain flair to the show, red hair flying like a spastic Cousin It as he thumped away with the rest of the rhythm section, which featured Chochrane McMillan (Apollo Sunshine) on percussion alongside Scott Rager. Mathis was probably the all-star of the night – steady as a rock at times, wildly inventive solos when called for, and anyone who loves what they do as much as he clearly does are simply a joy to watch
The strong interplay between Mathis and both Trevor Garrod (keys/vocals) and Josh Clark (guitar/vocals) was evident from the beginning, and it was particularly solid during a marvelous take on "Ride Together." Mathis’ bass propelled Garrod’s solo section, which segued to Clark’s solo portion via some vicious-sounding rock riffs that gave way to his frenetic guitar picking.
"Ride Together" was followed by the seldom-played "No Blanket," which made its first appearance in a year and a half. The band cranked it up a notch (well, several notches) with "Freedom," and closed their set on a strong note with a stellar take on the anthemic "Vote On Tuesday." As the band charged ahead, they dropped the tune into a little drum/percussion break before Mathis came back in with a steady bassline that meshed perfectly with a nifty little keyboard solo from Garrod. Finally, when Clark added his fretwork, the song blew back up into a full-bore rock groove that built up the tension before releasing into the song’s signature guitar riff.
After a short set break, the band came back out, and by this time, the room was pretty packed – for once, a good showing by Memphis. The second set was a schooling in everything Tea Leaf Green can be as a band; it showed their versatility. The set opened with the downright funky "All Washed Up," the band put on their best "slower" rock face with "Moonshine," and paid homage to their host city, as many bands do, by covering Elvis Presley (who at the time was covering Arthur Crudup) with "That’s All Right." Clark nailed the 50s-era guitar licks, even though his vocals were a tad off tone-wise.
While the entire second set was rock-solid, things really picked up towards the end, starting with "Las Vegas." As the song progressed, Mathis and Clark locked in, the two going toe to toe during the guitar solo as the bassline propelled the song. After the aggressive "Without a Broom, " a newer tune – "Germinatin’ Seed" – closed the second set.
"Germinatin’ Seed" is essentially everything that makes Tea Leaf Green one of a few: great vocals singing great lyrics over skilled musicianship. Mathis ripped off a short gut-busting bass solo before ceding the stage to Garrod for his turn. Garrod stepped up to Mathis’ challenge, matching the bass solo with a keyboard-then-organ solo before handing the reigns over to Clark, who once again proved up to the challenge.
After a brief encore break, the band came back on stage one last time. "Truck Stop Sally" was fairly standard, but what it segued into, "Gasaholic," was anything but. "Gasaholic" is a perfect jam vehicle for Tea Leaf Green, and they took the audience on a danceable ride that they won’t soon forget. While Rager, McMillan and Mathis provided the backbone, Garrod’s funky keyboard work had the crowd cheering as the song crescendoed into an explosive guitar solo from Clark. The tune eventually broke down into a raucous, fast-paced jam that wore the crowd out, which was fine, because the band had already let it all hang out.
Tea Leaf Green put on a great show, but the true star of the night may have been the Memphis crowd, who came out in suprising force given their band’s long absence in the area. The band seemed clearly grateful, put on a hell of a show, and it’s a sure bet that ALL left Newby’s satisfied with the evening’s events.