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Tea Leaf Green with Elmwood Band, The Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte, NC- 1/17

When a veteran sound technician approaches you in the parking lot and insists, "Don't miss the opening band, soundcheck was amazing!" you tend to listen. When a group of ticket holders introduce themselves as fans on tour with the headliner and claim, "Last night the opener blew the roof off the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta" you might wonder, "Why the hype for a band I've never heard of when Tea Leaf Green has been thrilling audiences throughout the tour?"

On January 17th Tea Leaf Green rolled into The Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, NC with the virtually unknown Elmwood Band in tow and by the time the night was over, it was evident that the critically-acclaimed San Francisco natives deserve all the accolades they've been receiving. It was equally clear as to why the young Elmwood Band was chosen to tag along in support.

The Neighborhood Theatre, a medium sized venue, with great sound, plentiful lights, and a large stage, has a well-deserved reputation as one of North Carolina's most welcoming concert facilities. As you walk in you are greeted by friendly staff and positive vibes. You get the the feeling that everyone working at the venue is as excited about the show as the ticket holders themselves.

Elmwood Band was infectious from the very first note and played with a conviction and energy that is rarely seen in the jam scene. Their energy on stage reminds one of Fear if Dave Matthews replaced Lee Ving back in the day but decided to play Dave's songs and arrangements. Odd yes, but it works! The thunder of a double bass drum rumbled throughout the theatre and onto the streets of Charlotte. Bass riffs flowed effortlessly while the sound of saxophone added color and melody. Unusual for jambands, Elmwood brings a front man who is not only comfortable in his role but also confident without being arrogant. He beckons the attention by his very presence. They are not a metal band. They are not a jam band. They are Elmwood Band and they filled our heads with catchy lyrics, complex songwriting, monstrous and complex drum parts. With only 35 minutes allotted to them, and a setlist of 6 songs, there was little time for them to stretch their wings, which was unfortunate.

A later conversation with the band revealed they are living out a dream. The band got its name when Rusty Kelly, age 20 (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Nash Johnson, age 21 (bass) were playing coffee houses, had to choose a name for themselves and selected the street they lived on. When they decided to put a full band together they placed an ad on Craigslist and found Donnie Marple, age 21 (drums) and Derek Haight, the elder band member at 27 (saxophone). It's interesting to note that Haight has played all over the world as a working musician, while Marple is the 2007 Guitar Center Drum Off Champion. Not a bad resume to bring to the table. They may be young but they are musicians' musicians, each being equally and technically proficient at what they do. While this four piece has been together as a band for only 6 months, have signed with a major booking agency already, and were soon thrown into the support role for Tea Leaf Green. A CD is forthcoming.

After the scorching set from Elmwood, Tea Leaf Green took the stage amidst some of the most artistic lighting Charlotte has seen. Their loyal fans greeted them at deafening levels and the band returned the love opening with "The Garden (III)" then "Rapture," followed by a solid first set of old songs and new that included "Cops Took My Weed," "Baseball," "Hanging From A Tree," and a very spacey "Innocence" that at times had concertgoers banging their heads while trying to dance (a dangerous process for those in the balcony). The segues were smooth and from the get go TLG played with passion and intensity. Dropping in and out of patient and interesting jams with little effort. The normally laid back Trevor Garrod (piano/vocals), donned a fedora throughout much of the first set and seemed genuinely excited to be on The Neighborhood Theatre stage, often raising his hands and beckoning the audience to scream louder, which they did on cue.

During the second set, the newest member of TLG, Reed Mathis (bass), flexed his muscles to show naysayers that he is now an integral part of Tea Leaf Green. "Lil Hood" segued into "Borrowed Time" and the deafening screams of the crowd melded with guitarist Josh Clark’s solos like a fifth member of the band. "Drink Of Streams" and Monsters At The Gate" offered pure heat before "Oceans View," a new tune, sucked the listener in with Garrod’s gentle melodies and then finished with Clark’s scorching guitar work. Other highlights included the bluesy "Georgie P" featuring Clark on slide and "Moonshine" where Garrod broke out the mouth harp while Mathis and Scott Rager (drums) drove the bus home. "These Two Chairs" later finished the second set to the thrill of the predominantly twenty-something crowd before TLG returned for a well deserved pair of encores: The Beatles’ "Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For My Monkey" and "Morning Sun."

This was an excellent night of music from two gifted and talented bands. The virtuous youngsters in Elmwood, and the seasoned veterans in Tea Leaf Green made the hype before the show understandable.

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