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Published: 2012/01/30
by Scott Pike

Tea Leaf Green, Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL – 1/20

Photo by Norman Sands

Heading up the stairs, you might have thought the weather outside made its way through the roof. Lincoln Hall had an array of snowflakes hanging from the ceiling as eight inches of the powder fell on the city of Chicago. The snow storm made life difficult for Tea Leaf Green, turning a three hour drive into a six hour commute, but you would have never guessed it from the energy the San Francisco troupe brought to the Lincoln Park venue.

The band’s well dressed road crew, sporting suits and ties, had their hands full as Tea Leaf Green is touring with two kit drummers. This is not the pairing of a kit player and a percussionist that’s common with other jambands, but two full drum kits with kick drums, toms and snares. Cochrane McMillan’s kit is a rusty orange set on stage left, while Scott Rager’s kit is a light sparkling blue and employs two snares. The powerful rhythms they pumped out all night make a sound foundation for the three very talented soloists in front of them on stage.

Wielding a Gibson ES-335, a hollow body guitar that has a very warm tone, Josh Clark is a ball of energy ready to lance out like a bolt of lightning. When it’s time to solo, his tantalizing leads set the stage on fire. Rager and Clark are childhood friends, and the result of years of knowing each other comes through in the music. Clark’s lines and Rager’s fills paint a sonic kaleidoscope together. Not only does Clark practice molecular chemistry with his long-time ally on the drums, his interactions with Reed Mathis (bass, vocals) and Trevor Garrod (keyboards, harmonica, vocals) resemble lucid trips through a musical dream state.

Reed Mathis joined the band in 2007 and brought his immense talents into the ever evolving band. Mathis has a bass tone like no other; using an octave pedal and completely unafraid of the high frets, he truly serves the dual purpose of holding down the groove and providing a lead voice. In “I’ve Got a Truck,” Reed and Trevor harmonize their melodies in a way few would expect from keys and bass.

Trevor Garrod’s microKorg synthesizer looks right at home atop his Hammond organ and the Yamaha Motif workstation opens up a broad array of possible timbres. To the left of the Korg, a stack of harmonicas is waiting to be harnessed around Trevor’s neck. Garrod makes use of an in-ear monitor and it is difficult to hear his keys close to his side of the stage, I found it necessary to step back about ten feet to hear his part in the mix. Trevor has taken on the role of Tea Leaf Green’s front man over the years, handling a majority of the vocal duties with his identifiable creamy croon.

Coming from where they were years ago, Tea Leaf Green is taking their jams on stage to another level. Their new album may be named Radio Tragedy, but the studio cuts would feel right at home on the air waves. What is impressive is that the songs live a double live as great vehicles for improvisation on stage. Trevor, Josh and Reed are conversing while their operators, Scott and Cochrane, keep the lines open. Their second set jam on “Easy to be Your Lover” goes well beyond what you hear on the album, in particular Josh opens up his solo and interacts more with his fellow performers. The harmony vocals maintain the precision found on Radio Tragedy while more soul comes across in front of the crowd.

Continuing their break neck touring pace, Tea Leaf Green is only going to get better at furnishing venues and festivals with their five man power lineup. Leaving nothing to be desired, they leave everything on the stage.

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