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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2003/04/25
by Tina Campbell

Tea Leaf Green- Harper’s Ferry – Boston, MA 4/17

It was a long time coming, but I finally got my Tea Leaf Green fix after waiting 8 months to see them live again. The first and last time I'd seen them was at Berkfest this past summer. My boyfriend and I were hanging around the Sundeck stage area around 11 am on Sunday, just waiting for Patchen and Jen Montgomery’s set to start. Before they were on though, there’d be one more band. I grabbed my Berkfest booklet to see who they were. Tea Leaf Green, huh? I’d heard the name before, but didn’t know much about them and had NO idea what kind of music they played. Well, I sat down on that sun-drenched lawn, put down the booklet and waited to either be impressed or turned off.

I was more than impressed. The energy and emotion coming off that stage was enough to get a motley crew of hung-over or otherwise physically spent partyers up off their duffs and dancing like a frenzied pack of Bacchanalian revelers… and I completely understood why. Slinky grooves, blistering guitar and soothing keyboard textures were washing over the crowd and turning heads for as far as the eye could see. Bill, my boyfriend, had just returned from getting us some water just as the first song was ending. As soon as he was within range, I was frantically gesturing for him to get his butt over to me… I had to tell him about this new discovery! "You’re not gonna
believe this" I said, "I think I’ve just found my new favorite band". He laughed and asked how many songs they’d done. I told him it was just one, but it was enough. He gave me a doubting look, knowing my rather stingy and often highly critical tastes in music, and said "Okay, well, let’s see how you feel after their set." Thankfully, Tea Leaf Green did not disappoint — they only drove my point home far more than any of my excited descriptions ever could have.

After their set was over, we found our way to the merch booth and spent some of our "emergency fund" money on the 2 CDs they had for sale. We wore them out in the months that followed, and were anxious to see them play again. Unfortunately for us, Tea Leaf Green’s home is San Francisco, so East coast shows are a bit harder to come by — Berkfest was their first trip out here. They did play at Harper’s Ferry just after that festival weekend, but Bill and I were living in Vermont at the time and couldn’t make it down to Boston for the weekday show. Little did we realize we’d have to wait 8 months before we’d see them again.

We moved back home to Beantown this past fall and were keeping a vigilant eye on Tea Leaf Green’s web site in the hopes of spotting another Harper’s Ferry date. Sure enough, one popped up and this time it was right in our backyard. Bill charged up his battery pack and got his DATs unpacked, I arranged for the dog-sitter and we were off… FINALLY!

We arrived without incident, even managed to find a parking spot on the street, which if you know Boston, you know how unheard such a feat can be — it was going to be a good night. When we walked in, the band was on stage and getting ready to soundcheck. Once everyone had their levels set, they launched into "Freedom", a song I remembered from that Berkfest set (not knowing the title, but it was easy enough to discern: "Freedom don’t come easy to me… your sugar tastes so good ‘cause it’s free"), but didn’t have on either of the discs we’d bought. I was psyched to hear it, souncheck-choppy though it may have been.

The first song of the set was Hot Dog, one of my favorites. This tune is all about guitarist Josh Clark, from his scorching licks and chops to his belting out "Lemme
take ya HIIIIIIGH-YA!". Hot Dog segued seamlessly into Kali Yuga, a song that struck me as having a very laid back, west coast type vibe to it. Or at least it does at its start, once they get going on it, it turns into a monster with overtones reminiscent of a certain east coast jamband giant that will remain nameless for the sake of avoiding comparisons (there are audible influences, though 9 times out of 10 nowhere nearing anything resembling a rip off… with that 1 exception being the intro to "Country
Seduction"). Keyboardist Trevor Garrod’s gentle, lilting voice is truly an asset to a band with an array of powerful sounds that run the gamut from gritty blues and hard rock to sunshine daydream psychedelia and hypnotic grooves.

Papa’s in the Backroom was up next, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when they started it. This one was the one the lyric maven in me latched onto when I started learning the intricacies of the live disc we’d bought. If you’re the type who tries to read a story into what’s being said in the song, then Papa’s in the Backroom plays out as the story of a high school (or earlier) drop out who plays the piano in a band with his father and "the fellas up the street". I always picture a group of back country hicks wearing overalls with no shirts underneath, picking on time-weathered banjos and plucking washtub bases:

"We ain’t got no technological AM/FM radios
No record stacks, no phonographs…
Just old guitars and pots and pans
Everyone knows the words and everyone sings along
Everyone sees the mornin’ cuz we go all night long
Everyone knows the words, yeah everyone sings along
Not cuz it’s a hit, just cuz it’s a real good song"

I love the imagery and the vibe of that song… it’s kind of a "music is all you need to have a good time" sorta thing, which works just fine for me.

Tequila was next, and no, this isn’t a cover of the one Pee Wee Herman danced to atop a biker bar table in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. This one’s a LOT more
rockin’: "Tequila will heal ya, drink that f*#@ker up". Guitarist Josh Clark’s growling vocals work perfectly on this gritty anthem to everyone’s favorite "last drink of the night". If I may make a side note observation for all you ladies who wished you’d been alive for some of the live music of the 70s… Mr. Clark exudes an enormous amount of sexual energy one might liken to Mr. Robert Plant when Led Zeppelin was in its hey day. Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve got all the man I need in my boyfriend, but being female, it’s just something you can’t not notice.

Tequila morphed almost undetectably into Baseball Jam, another instrumental that doesn’t need even a scrap of lyrics to shine. Immediately following was the title
track to the studio CD we’d picked up, Midnight on the Reservoir. I like this one a lot, more of Trevor’s silky smooth voice, Josh’s jaw-dropping guitar and can I just take a minute to sing the praises of their bassist, Ben Chambers? You know how you’ve got the type of bass player that can lay down the grooves and hold it all together, but
you don’t really notice him standing out all that much… and then you’ve got the other end of the spectrum where the bassist shines just as much as the lead guitar through his ability to fill up the empty spaces and really add another dimension to the music? Ben definitely falls into the latter category — sometimes you don’t notice him, but it’s because it’s a point where you’re not supposed to. Once he catches your ear though, listen up because you’re not going to want to miss it. While we’re on the subject of bass, I might as well go right into drums. Scott Rager’s the name, and it couldn’t be more fitting. From beats that’ll pierce your soul to stellar
cymbal work, he’s definitely got his eye on the bouncing ball and he doesn’t ever let it get away from him (or at least not that I’ve heard yet).

A bit later following another strong segue, the band moved into Invasion and to put not too fine a point on it, THIS was the song that really highlighted that sexual energy vibe of Josh’s that I mentioned earlier. Picture a disco beat with some scratchy guitar work and a gritty, deep voice growling about sexy ladies and sophisticated mamas shakin’ it… all the while reminding them that "here come the invasion". Enough imagery for ya there? Thought so. If that weren’t enough, Invasion gave way (yes, seamlessly) to one of Tea Leaf Green’s signature songs, Sex in the 70s. Another one that’s ripe with jams, but not so much with lyrics "Mama tell me, mama tell me about the sex you had in the 70s… Feels so GOOD". A little Oedipus-esque, but I’m not complaining — it works, and it works well. Once you get past the weirdness of
asking your mom about her sexual exploits, one of which undoubtedly resulted in your reading this now (for those of us born during that decade), it’s a great song. For those of you pay no attention to lyrics, this one probably will slip right by without so much as an eyelash batting… but when you do notice it, you can’t help but think of what a great time Freud would have had with whichever one of ‘em penned those lyrics on his couch.

So that was my long awaited night of Tea Leaf Greenery. I hope you enjoyed reading at least half as much as I enjoyed being there. They’re on tour right now and will be for the next few weeks, so check out their web site, to see if they’re coming your way…

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