Tea Leaf Green, The Cabooze, Minneapolis, MN – 7/16
As someone who had not seen Tea Leaf Green since the recent addition of percussionist Cochrane McMillan, I wasn’t sure of what to expect from this new version of Tea Leaf Green when I headed down to catch their show at the Cabooze in Minneapolis. Whenever a band adds a new member, there are generally some growing pains and an adjustment period. But McMillan has fit in perfectly, as he already knows the music from helping with a tour last year when drummer Scott Rager sprained his ankle and couldn’t drum at full capacity. Not only has McMillan provided an extra thump to Tea Leaf Green, but he has also transformed them into a completely new band.
Perhaps the reason that the two drummer approach is working so well for Tea Leaf Green is that Scott Rager and Cochrane McMillan are completely different drummers. Rager is very much an in the pocket drummer, who gives Tea Leaf Green a steady groove that gets the crowd dancing. McMillan, on the other hand, is a crazed Rhythm Devil like Mickey Hart. Tea Leaf Green’s former bassist, Ben Chambers was fairly straight ahead funk bassist, who worked perfectly with Rager. Reed Mathis, who replaced Chambers on bass in 2008, is from more of an experimental jazz background, and McMillan seems to be a kindred spirit. Throughout this concert, Mathis and McMillan chased each other around as Rager kept a steady beat. More than anything, the addition of McMillan has freed up Mathis to jump around the beat instead of staying in the pocket. Cochrane McMillan has transformed the role and approach of the rhythm section in Tea Leaf Green, and has allowed Mathis in particular to break out and shine, and at this show he threw in fills at every turn and bended minds with his use of distortion and effects pedals during solos, almost approaching the music as if he were playing lead guitar rather than bass.
Tea Leaf Green is touring behind the release of their new album Radio Tragedy, and this show at the Cabooze featured a balance between old and new material. The band showed a lot of confidence in their new material opening with “Arise” from Radio Tragedy, and closing with two other songs from the new album. In between, Tea Leaf Green performed plenty of classic old material, including “One Reason,” “Garden 3,” and “Morning Sun,” which were revitalized by the band’s new lineup and approach, as the rhythm section propelled “Morning Sun” in particular to a frantic climax.
But perhaps the highlights of the show occurred when Tea Leaf Green seamlessly segued old and new songs into each other. “You’re My Star,” a new foot stomping rocker courtesy of guitarist Josh Clark featured some fiery guitar shredding before the band slammed into a classic, funky jam vehicle, “Jezebel.” Tea Leaf Green closed the show in perfect fashion, as their old fun sing-along “Papa’s in the Backroom” evolved into “Germinatin’ Seed,” a stellar new song from Radio Tragedy. Featuring energetic singing from lead vocalist and keyboardist Trevor Garrod, a slick bass solo from Reed Mathis and some great interplay between Clark’s guitar and Garrod’s keyboards, “Germinating Seed” closed the show with a bang. It was a treat to see that not only was Tea Leaf Green confident enough to play new material in major slots in the setlist, but also comfortable enough with it to fluidly jam from old songs into new.
Coming back for an encore break, Josh Clark began by introducing the two drummers, before they launched into a psychedelic percussion jam that marks the beginning of another new tune, “All Washed Up.” It seemed only fitting that Clark should introduce the drummers and give them a minute in the spotlight after the powerhouse display they put on this night. Rager and McMillan simply have a terrific chemistry together and because they have such different drumming styles, the combination has transformed the band’s sound and allows them to play these songs in fresh, exciting new styles.