Tea Leaf Green, Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA- 7/22
Road-Tripping Honeymoon: East Meets West
For most people, thoughts of honeymoon destinations conjure images of the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean, the volcanoes and black sand beaches of Hawaii, or romantic nights spent in the shadow of the Eiffel tower. While my husband and I considered all of these options, none of them seemed right to us; none were the perfect fit for how we’d most like to spend our first week together as husband and wife.
Neither of us had ever been to the Caribbean, so the adventure aspect of it was appealing… but traveling south of Florida in the middle of July didn’t sound like the best idea for northern New Englanders like ourselves our ideal summertime temperature is 70-75 with a nice cool breeze. Hawaii sounded like an adventure as well, but the travel time from Vermont was a bit longer than we’d like to spend on a plane where we only had 1 week for our honeymoon. Europe was a HUGE temptation because neither of us had ever been and we both consider it something we have to do before shaking off the ol’ mortal coil, but the estimated cost proved to be quite prohibitive we decided to save it for some anniversary when we have more time and money to spend.
We had almost given up on taking a honeymoon at all, when Tea Leaf Green announced that they’d be doing two shows in a row at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on July 22nd and 23rd; the very week when we’d be taking our honeymoon after our July 16th wedding. It was too serendipitous to ignore… we had just been discussing flying into Seattle and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco as a honeymoon possibility! My husband, Bill, grew up mostly on the west coast in towns just outside of Seattle and San Francisco. He hadn’t been out there since his family moved back east during his freshman year of high school, and he’d always wanted to revisit these places and show them to me. Now that Tea Leaf Green would be playing a couple of hometown gigs in the very city we planned to end up in and on the very days when we planned to be there we had to do it… and we did.
Tea Leaf Green at The Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA 7/22/05
Our Friday night began when we set out from our hotel to meet up with some of the locals from the band’s website forums. Arrangements had been made for anyone interested to drop by a pub that was within walking distance to the GAMH to have a few drinks before the show. We had met only a handful of San Francisco fans who’d turned up at Nectar’s in Burlington when Tea Leaf Green played there the night after Coventry last summer we didn’t know if there would be any familiar faces at the pub that night, but even if not, we were excited to put some faces with the names we’d known for so long.
Upon entering the bar, the first few tables just inside the door were full of people all were sporting small circular green stickers that read ‘Gardening Association’ with a picture of a dragonfly in the center. These had to be the Tea Leaf fans the stickers were unmistakable: ‘Gardening Association’ referred to what’s become known as ‘The Garden Trilogy’ ‘Garden I’, ‘Garden II’ and ‘Garden III’, songs that are sometimes played sequentially and sometimes appear by themselves or sandwiched within other segues. The picture of the dragonfly was self-explanatory ‘Dragonfly’ is a Tea Leaf Green song sung by guitarist Josh Clark. We barely had time to read what the stickers said when we were greeted with introductions, hugs, congratulations and questions about how the honeymoon had been so far. It was such an amazing feeling to be standing in an unfamiliar city, clear across the country from home and feel like we were immediately among friends… even if we didn’t know all their names yet. Not only were we made to feel at home so quickly, we were also surprised and deeply touched by being presented with a congratulatory card that had been signed by everyone there, as well as by all the guys in the band such kindness and thoughtfulness from a group of people we’d never met; we were blown away to say the least!
A few drinks and a newspaper-wrapped package of fish and chips later, we arrived at the Great American Music Hall. Bill had never been to the GAMH for a show before, but I had while on a west coast mini-tour seeing Strangefolk play a stretch from L.A. to San Francisco back in ’98 and again in ’99. This venue is truly one of the most visually stunning I’ve ever been to from the massive gold-gilded columns to the sparkling crystal chandeliers, you can almost picture what it must have been like during the turn of the century when women in ornate gowns and men in tails spent the evening gliding along the dance floor, marveling at the grandeur of such a gorgeous ballroom. If you can’t picture it, you can always get a glimpse of what it really looked like there’s a black and white picture depicting this very scene hanging in the lobby.
Once inside, we had a look around and then headed upstairs so Bill could get his taping gear set up. We’d been told that tonight’s show would be three sets: one acoustic and two electric, which was great news as we’d never seen Tea Leaf Green play acoustic before. Not only is the overall sound more mellow, the songs are completely different as well you usually don’t hear them in the rotation of regular (electric) shows, as many are acoustic-only tunes. As it turned out though the only thing acoustic about the acoustic set was Josh Clark’s guitar but such are the limitations of a band that’s just starting to gain some national recognition. I’m sure a few years from now we’ll see an acoustic bass and perhaps a percussion set join the array of instrument choices. For now though, they do just fine with what they’ve got!
The remaining two electric sets featured some of the best playing either of us had heard from these guys since we first stumbled onto them at Berkfest 02. We figured that these San Francisco shows would be pretty blistering with that hometown crowd energy fueling the fires, but wow! I could be a bit biased though…
Have you ever been on your way to a show and saw or heard something that made you think of a specific song? Like you’re stuck at a red light on your way to see Phish and suddenly you can’t get ‘Slave to the Traffic Light’ out of your head… several hours later as you’re walking into the venue, you realize that that’s the one song you REALLY want to hear that night. Now imagine having a couple of days worth of these kinds of experiences built up in your head from all that you’d seen and done… and imagine getting all the corresponding songs that you’ve been tapping, humming and singing randomly in one set that’s what this first electric set was like for me.
It all started off innocently enough they opened with ‘Rapture’; like many of keyboardist Trevor Garrod’s songs, there’s some great lyrical imagery and a nice mellow groove to this tune. I definitely don’t dislike this one, but it has yet to wow me, so I guess the most accurate opinion I can give on it is one of neutral indifference. ‘Midnight on the Reservoir’ got the energy level cranked up to eleven pretty quickly I remember looking down from the balcony and seeing everyone on the floor just going nuts once the jam started to take off, there wasn’t a soul down there who wasn’t gettin’ down. ‘Moonshine’ cooled things down a bit, but then ‘Earth & Sky’ brought it right back up again, though not too much. ‘Earth & Sky’ would give us a taste of what was to come, but that mellow groove reared its head once again and did a great job keeping things under control. For me, this was the first song whose lyrics harkened back to a few days prior to the show (see ‘Slave’ example above).
We had pulled off to the side of the PCH to watch the sunset over the Pacific, something I’d never seen before. We just stood there in silence, hand-in-hand, watching that brilliant orange orb as it first hovered over and then began to sink into the fog-fuzzy line that separated the ocean from the sky. Later on that night as we soldiered on through Oregon (just north of Coos Bay), we came around a bend and the landscape opened up to a coastal inlet flanked by dense trees towering over this serene scene was the biggest, brightest, fullest moon you could possibly imagine. Again, we pulled over to the side of the road. Bill brought out his camera to try and get a good shot of it. As he steadied his camera arm by leaning on a telephone pole, I couldn’t help but notice how bright the moonlight was it lit up his features so perfectly that it could have been mid-day. As we walked back to the car, ‘Earth and Sky’ popped into my head:
_And I’m living in between the Earth and Sky…
Followin’ the phone lines to good times and bad times
Under the starlight, under the moon shinin’ down on me_
It didn’t stick in my head for too long because we were in the middle of reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which had been released on our wedding day (I read aloud while Bill drives, long road trips have gotten us through the previous five books this way), so the song lyrics were quickly chased away once I picked the book back up where we’d left off. I remembered it the next day though, and found myself humming it here and there… at least until we got into northern California.
After ‘Earth & Sky’ came one of my all-time favorites, ‘Garden III’. I love this song it’s the kind you just never get tired of hearing; it’s just got such a feel-good vibe to it, you can’t help but love it… and while we’re on the subject of things you can’t help but love, I have to give some props to Trevor Garrod. This guy can do it all… he tickles those ivories like he was born to do it, he’s got more soul than you’d expect to hear out of a blond-haired white boy from northern Cali farm country, and his lyrics are some of the most beautiful, insightful and inspiring I’ve heard in a long time. That said and it needed to be moving on…
‘Zoom Zoom’... easily the biggest jaw-dropper of the night for me. I’d had this one running through my head intermittently switched out with one other TLG song (more on that in a minute) since we’d arrived in California. There’s this one line in it that just jumped out at me as we were traveling down that ribbon of highway: _And I was lookin’ up at them tall redwood trees Like looking up the skirt of my destiny… Whisper and wander in Whisper and wander in_
Before this trip, I’d only ever seen pictures of the redwoods… I had no idea they were so huge in real life! We took our rented red Mustang convertible down along the Avenue of Giants and got tons of pictures, all the while I had this one line from ‘Zoom Zoom’ playing as my internal soundtrack. When they launched into the opening chords to it that night, I was one happy camper. Little did I realize that I had more to be excited about other than simply hearing a song that had been stuck in my head… what a monster this one turned out to be! Never before had I heard a ‘Zoom Zoom’ go to the places where this one went talk about a roller coaster ride, I was completely and totally blown away. Looking back, I wonder how much time I spent dancing and how much time I just stood there staring wide-eyed.
We expected a San Francisco gig to go above and beyond what we had come to expect by the time their national tours got them out to the northeast, but we weren’t prepared for this. That’s not to say northeast gigs aren’t good until we saw this one in San Fran, we thought they were phenomenal, but when pitted against a gig in their hometown with that energy loop from a room packed with hardcore fans, it makes a big difference. I don’t think it’ll be too long until we start to see shows of the same caliber out east, it’s really just a matter of time until their fan base starts to grow to the point where the energy is there for them to feed off of. While we’re on the subject of feeding off of energy, keep your eye on drummer Scott Rager if you catch them on their next tour. Wow not only can he lock down the beat and keep everyone together (I have yet to catch an audible flub in the shows I’ve seen, so he’s consistent if nothing else), he also generates an enormous amount of sound from that kit. He’s one of the better drummers I’ve seen.
The other song that had been taking turns with ‘Zoom Zoom’ as the tune dominating the radio in my head, oddly enough, was the very next song on the set list: ‘Professor’s Blues’. One has only to hear the first line of this song to know why it was on a constant loop in my brain since the Golden Gate Bridge had come into view upon our arrival in the city by the bay: _Downtown San Francisco’s got a feeling that’ll get you low You gotta hold back like a downtown disco You gotta stick to the things you know_
As I’d only just recently started getting familiar with this song (it’s one of their older ones, but I have only a handful of CDs where it’s on the set list), the only part of these lyrics I could remember was ‘Downtown San Francisco’s got a feeling…’ before I had to revert to humming. Pathetic for a lyric maven such as myself, I know, but that’s how I usually learn lyrics; the song gets stuck in my head and then I have to find out what it is that I keep humming. It also didn’t help that the majority of the song is rapped by the band’s bassist, Ben ‘Milky’ Chambers — for some reason rapped lyrics take longer to sink in than melodic ones for me. I think my favorite thing about Ben is how off-the-hook animated he gets when things start taking off he bobs, bops and dances right along with the crowd whenever the mood strikes him. Watching him get down while not missing a beat on that bass just adds so much to the show; there’s a lot to be said for what stage presence can do.
The second-to-last song of the set was ‘Loony Bin’, a raucous Josh Clark rocker that never fails to please. The following day, both Bill and I were singing and humming this one constantly. It actually got the point of annoyance (as songs stuck in your head have a tendency to do after a while) we had to put in a serious effort to make it stop, correcting each other every time we’d catch the other humming or singing it unconsciously.
Set three kicked off with ‘Morning Sun’, one of their more high-energy tunes that I was really hoping to hear at some point over this two day run. I love the imagery in the first few verses: ‘The night is a joker, the morning’s a judge. By noon he’s a rambler walkin’ under the sun. Take me to heaven or you lead me astray… I wouldn’t have it any other way’. I can’t describe what it is about this song; it just gets your blood (and fists) pumpin’ with every pulsating beat of the chorus:
I like the beat
I like the junk
I like the good times
I like the funk
I like you here with me until the morning comes
Like my morning suuuuuuuuuuuuun…
I think that’s what I love most about this band: they actually write songs. There are so many bands out there today that put so much importance on musical masturbation that they fail miserably in the song-crafting department. Phish managed to build a career on being jam-heavy, but relatively light in the lyrics department. Did they have some deep, meaningful songs? Absolutely… but did they make up the majority of their repertoire? No, not by a long shot because they knew where their strengths were and played their cards right. It seems like so many of today’s bands are trying to follow a similar formula with making sure they can play like nobody’s business, but don’t try too hard when it comes to their lyrics, not realizing that finding that precious balance in being able to nail both is your best bet for appealing to the broadest possible audience. I love the improv side of live music as much as the next gal, but I’m also a big fan of songs that tell stories or refer to universal truths we can all identify with. I love feeling that sense of community when everyone in the audience belts out the same exact line in a song with everything they have (i.e. ‘WISH I WAS A HEADLIGHT...’). If those moments don’t give you chills, then you’re in the wrong scene… but I digress.
‘Rattlin’‘ was song number two of the third set, another that’s been in the rotation for some time, but not one you see a whole lot of. I was a bit surprised that they’d slow it down with this one, I would have thought something like ‘Asphalt Funk’ or ‘Georgie P’ would go really well after ‘Morning Sun’ to keep the crowd moving, but c’est la vie. ‘Incandescent Devil’, ‘Ride Together’ and ’5000 Acres’ followed with a segue into ‘Wet Spot’, which was another I’d been waiting for. Upon first seeing this song on a set list several years ago, the first thing it made me think of was… uh… well, you know. If you listen to the lyrics though, it actually refers to a rather cleverly named bar, which, going by the growling grittiness of the song, I assume to be a dive. This tune is all about guitarist Josh Clark. If you like your lead guitarists to have stage presence that’s marked by a cocky swagger and the talent to back it up, then Mr. Clark is your man (I know you ladies are intrigued by that last bit, and you should be)... but back to ‘Wet Spot’. I’d heard a couple of these recently and they just seem to get more monstrous every time I hear one tonight’s was no exception.
‘Precious Stone’ was followed by ‘For Every Lonely Lady’: _For every lonely lady there’s a man that’s just her type That’s gonna love her in the mornin’ after he loves her through the night But not all of us are lucky, no not all of us are blessed The world is filled with failures that tried to do their lovin’ best _
This is another one that I can’t help but love Trevor’s wistful words of encouragement to keep the faith is something I can get behind; I actually had similar sentiments worked into my vows because I had given up on finding ‘the one’ just before Bill came into my life. Take it from me… the minute you stop looking for him/her, that’s when Prince/Princess Charming will show up and turn your world upside down!
We had no idea what they were going to whip out for an encore after the show they just played, but ‘Freedom’ fit the spot just fine. This one is in pretty heavy rotation, and no wonder… it’s a fun one and it definitely catches newbie ears rather effectively; I can say so from experience. This is one of the songs I distinctly remember hearing the first time I’d ever seen them. After wrapping ‘Freedom’ up, we thought that would be it, but we should have known better we were in San Francisco after all, what band plays only one song when they’re in their element with the hometown crowd? ‘Baseball Jam’ was a welcome addition, again, reminding me of when I first discovered these guys back in ’02 as this tune was on the live CD we’d picked up at the Berkfest merch booth after seeing their set that Sunday. When they segued it seamlessly into ‘Vote on Tuesday’, one of the newer songs on their most recent studio album, we knew we were in for a ride. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before ‘Vote’ transitioned back into ‘Baseball Jam’... back into ‘Vote’ and then finally ending on a high note with the final strains of ‘Baseball Jam’ coming full circle.
It was one hell of a night from the welcome we received from the local fans, to the venue to the show itself, we couldn’t have asked for a more memorable ending to our honeymoon.