Tea Leaf Green, Club Delux, San Francisco- 11/21
On a foggy San Francisco night, in a small bar tucked into the shadows of
Haight and Ashbury, an up and coming San Francisco band made a
statement with quiet thunder. At the invitation of a friend, I decided to
stop in for a cup of caffeine at the Club Delux. It was Tea Leaf Green's
debut performance as Coffee Bean Brown. This was not your average cup of
rough and tumble rock and jam psychedelic tea, but a more sophisticated joe
that soothed your soul with an acoustic country/ bluegrass/ folk blend.
Until the third set anyway….
The Club Delux is an old 1950's style diner converted into a bar, replete
with the type of architectural lines you might find on a '57 Cadillac. Dark
red and black light filled the room and candles sat on the tables. The
capacity for the hip dive couldn't be more than eighty people. At the center
of the room was an 8 by 10 foot stage, about a foot off the ground. It was
officially an intimate setting.
Tea Leaf Green is Scott Rager (drums), Ben Chambers (Bass), Josh Clark
(Guitar), Trevor Garrod (keys). Tea Leaf Green's musical style is
traditionally served up as equal sides of psychedelic jam, jazz/funk, and a
main dish of guitar and keys driven Rock 'n Roll. However, this particular
night became the launching pad for, not only many newly penned songs, but
also a new style of laid back folksy country and bluegrass songs, previously
not performed. Unplugged and without a net, the band turned to a guest
musician by the name of Debbie to sit in with cello, and TLG armed
themselves with some not so often seen acoustic instruments. While Chambers
and Rager kept their bass and drums respectively, Clark traded in his
electric guitar for a mandolin and acoustic guitar. Garrod played some on
keys, but would regularly switch over to classical guitar and harmonica,
especially in the first two sets.
After an already rousing sound check, the group took the stage around 10
O'clock to the cheers and heckles of some loyal fans. Straight out of the
gates, Trevor Garrod took the reigns on classical guitar and vocals for
"Dream without Sleeping". With the rest of the band laying down a soothing
rhythm and melody, Josh Clark added some key mandolin fills to the tune.
However, it was Garrod in the saddle for this song and many others to come.
He seemed to evoke the singer songwriter styles of some folk greats; A blend
of Van Morrison's voice, Bob Dylan's lyricism, and Elton John's bluesy
keyboard work (before Disney got their hooks in him). The first few songs
followed a similar pattern; soulful country folk featuring Garrod, the Cello
and Mandolin fill and soft drums and bass underneath. Josh, normally a fiery
madman on electric guitar, tastefully held back on mandolin and guitar until
it was time for his solo's or fills and inserted them with care, as not to
upset the overall laid back feel of the songs. The lyrics, tone, and imagery
of the songs seemed to be the main point rather than the jam.
By the third song, CBB began to push the tempo up just a bit and there were
more interchanges between cello, mandolin, and guitar. It seemed as though
they were getting comfortable with the arrangement on stage and their
confidence grew. Rolling snare snaps by Rager kept the band paced
appropriately. The bass lines were subtle but thoughtful. Debbie on Cello
added a soulful hum underneath Josh's fills, and on top of all this,
Garrod's brow furrowed as he reached down to pull out the right pitch and
tone with his voice while strumming along. Coffee Bean Brown definitely had
two lumps of sugar stirred by this time, cause they were sounding sweet.
As the set rolled around to the last few songs, the energy level increased
on stage and off as the band began to gel. "Don't be down" started off with
a tender mandolin intro by Clark as the rest of the band locked in to a
rising and falling melody structure. This melody structure once again
followed a formula for the first set that gave Garrod some room to fly on
vocals and guitar, drawing the audience's ear closer with his delicate
crooning. The song drew to a final swell and closed with the audience
listening to the last note and then calling for "C.B.B"!
Two songs later (one being a superb Grateful Dead cover of "Must Have Been
the Roses") CBB immediately went into the song they performed at sound
check, "Rattling". This newly penned song seemed to be a gem in the first
two sets, and was by far my favorite. The song started off mellow and had a
natural progression in intensity, culminating into a full sounding guitar
solo by Clark. Clark's solo was interesting in that any restraint he showed
earlier this evening was gone. He was flat out pushing the acoustic towards
funky and dirty rock scales, all the way to a crescendo. On the way back
down, Josh and Trevor vocals harmonized to close out the song. The crowd
reacted enthusiastically to the switch to high intensity, but it was just
for this song that CBB let loose. You could feel the band would deliver that
one, two jam and rock punch this night, but they had some low intensity
country and folk to get off their chests first. So, this interchange of the
band delivering tantric taunting and the audience enjoying the new tunes but
pleading for the heat seemed to carry on until the third set.
"Ignoring the Oracle" closed out the first set and CBB went to take a break.
Fifteen minutes later they were back on stage. The second set had the same
instrumentation and tone as the first set, however teetered a bit on the
rowdy side of folk and country. For the first tune of the set "I got no
friends", Travis played classical guitar again and Josh switched back to
mandolin, but now Trevor added harmonica to the mid-tempo tune. The harp
helped the song evoke a raw country feel. The lyrics brought images of
trains and lost love, as any good country song should have. Josh gave a
solid mandolin solo, but went back to holding the intensity down. Trevor
lurched over the harmonica for a solo as well, and then went into an
interchange with Josh's mandolin, and then back into the vocals. The songs
imagery continued with lyrics such as "wait till I see that sun rising
across that eastern shore", and the room was getting loud.
Some memorable moments from this set were the funky bass lines on "Heavy
Machinery" and driving drums, as well as Josh's Mandolin solos which were
brief but intense. Also, the vocal harmonization, tempo and chord sections
that varied for "Taught to be proud". "Drunk from streams" had a sort of
classical cowboy style of cello backing some very blues key work by Trevor.
"Don't Let it down" let Josh have a full country twanged guitar solo with a
beautiful finish by the whole band. The clincher and a forecast of things
to come in the third set was the AC/DC "Shook me all night long" cover. It
turned into a drunken sing along for the bar's patrons and impressed me
thoroughly due to the fact that it was done acoustically, with Josh on
mandolin still, and Trevor taking a brief solo on guitar. Everyone, on stage
and off, were having a good time.
After another fifteen minute break, the band came back for the third set and
seemed to let it all hang out. This was the set the crowd was waiting for
and they delivered a piping hot blend of tea for all inside. This was the
TLG set, with Josh putting away the mandolin, and Trevor jumping on keys
fulltime. They opened with "Kali-yuga", a multi part road story of a song.
Trevor's voice perched delicately on the lyrics, "It's a long way to
Kali-yugga, its near the ocean" as the room erupted in raptured applause.
Folks were getting down. Three jams were placed in this song; Trevor rocked
out some blues keyboard that evolved into a cello solo and finally Josh
drove it home and back into the opening format of the song.
Next up was "Jubilee". The song's title is apt. The driving beat and cascade
of keys led from a care free tune into a funky section of super heavy blues
keyboard work by Trevor. Trevor softened and built the jam, finally
tightening it for Josh's edgy guitar solo. Just like the rest of the night,
Josh and Trevor egged each other on in the jam, building the groove with
cello underneath both of them, and then Rager busted in on drums. Rager's
placement helped the song explode fully and Josh rode the wave of sound to a
final solo which he finally softened and brought back around to the original
TLG followed "Jubilee" with "Let's ride together" inserting "Bound for
Glory" in the middle. The technique in the jam scene to segue songs out of
one song, into another, back into the original song has long been a staple
of this musical community. It allows bands to improvise in the transitions
and can be a good indicator of how well a band can play off the cuff. TLG
seemed to have this down. Everything seemed to rock on these songs, and you
could see how much fun the band was having by the full head shake being
performed by the players. Josh's solos on guitar were laid down thick and
pushed the song into a harmonized vocal finish.
The energy kept building from "Papa's in the back room" through "Deep River"
and the night grew later. "Beehive" was the final tune of the evening and
everyone was either swaying or stumbling (depending on how good a time you
had) to the soulful dirge. Members of the audience engaged the band and the
band welcomed them with open arms. It was just a great atmosphere for those
who stuck around.
Three hours, three sets, two distinct styles of music, and twenty nine songs
later, Coffee Bean Brown closed their first, but hopefully not their last,
show. I was impressed by how much depth this band displayed on this evening
and will definitely look forward to seeing them grow further. No matter what
caffeine based beverage they call themselves, they sound good to me.