Tea Leaf Green | 12.07 | Santa Cruz

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

Tea Leaf Green :: 12.07.07 :: Rio Theatre :: Santa Cruz, CA

Mathis & Clark - TLG :: 12.07.07 :: Santa Cruz
It's a truism but one worth repeating: Change is hard. While we all like the idea of evolution, there's almost always growing pains and discomfort in the long, slow slog towards newness. Walking briskly through the softly glowing winter streets of Santa Cruz towards Tea Leaf Green's inaugural gig with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey bassist Reed Mathis one couldn't escape the feeling of significance hanging over the evening. The sudden departure of Ben C. (bass/vocals 1997-2007) had kicked up dust amongst TLG fans, and the announcement of Mathis' joining made few points with JFJO fans concerned he was abandoning his more experimental instrumental work. Few of us like having our assumptions challenged, and shifting lineups in bands we've poured our passion into almost always kicks us in a deep place. But, once the music started, once the thing itself stood up on eight legs and danced, well, you'd have been hard pressed to believe this was Mathis' first show.

Sandwiched between high flying harlequin masks of evil grinning comedy and screaming tragedy, Blue Turtle Seduction took the chill out of our bones with a compact, energetic opening set. They have the primacy of folk music – Kingston Trio vocals, fancy picking and underlying structural integrity – crashing into rock & roll. It's something akin to the way country and blues mutated into rock in the '50s, except BTS has a more global reservoir to draw from, taking pieces of Mano Negra, String Cheese Incident, Bob Marley, African jive and even the oddball genre splicing of Kate Bush. What the Rio performance – only my third or fourth time seeing them – brought home was the significance of the last word in their name. During a massive jam driven by Christian Zupancic's insistent violin and Jay Seals' growling electric guitar, one felt seduced; drawn in with caresses and glances more than straight up grabbed. Full hearted entertainers, Blue Turtle shook their moneymakers while offering up incongruous combinations that nonetheless worked – Bulgarian campfire jigs tumbling into lover's skank, sea shanties nuzzling Queen-like bravado. A new song, "El Camino," had the ale-fueled bonhomie of vintage Pogues. And while often a bit chipper for my personal tastes, there's more shadows stirring on the edges as they progress, and anyone who digs the notion of say Gogol Bordello with more polish and focus will find much to love in this band.

Reed Mathis - TLG :: 12.07.07
In the dressing room before their set, the members of Tea Leaf Green chatted amiably with a continuous stream of well wishers but to anyone looking past the surface it was clear their nerves were a little frayed going into their first gig in 10 years with a new member. Due to guitarist Josh Clark's temporary position with Particle, the full quartet hadn't rehearsed together until this show's afternoon soundcheck. While all seasoned stage jockeys, circumstances like this would give anyone pause. Still, they stared down the first sentence in the next chapter of their story with a collective smile that blossomed into full, shit eating grins within a few minutes onstage.

Opener "Little Hood" showed their trademark groove-rock strut to be fully intact, and at the risk of pissing off Ben C. enthusiasts, the deep end was instantly and recognizably stronger, due to Mathis' tremendous tone and gymnast dexterity and a particularly switched-on Scott Rager, who pounded a little harder, swung a little tougher and overall shined in a way with his new rhythm partner I haven't heard in some time. There's something indefinable but unmistakable about the effect of fresh blood in a band. The members test the new guy and each other, unearthing hitherto unknown pockets in their playing and the material. Throughout their lengthy set, there was no mistaking the sense of happy surprise hitting the whole group.

Mathis is arguably the finest electric bass player out there today. Sure, there's Wootens, Claypools and others who equal or even best him on a technical level, but a case can be made for Reed Mathis as the most adventurous, fearless and downright musical bassist going. There's no setting he doesn't adapt to like a duck in water, and his ceaseless passion for music never fails to infuse whatever he's doing with sparks aplenty. Such was the case as TLG burrowed into "If It Wasn't For The Money." Begun by some really beautiful, exposed picking from Clark – a man usually known as a power player but capable of the delicate string poetry of early '70s Fleetwood Mac – "Money" developed into something really special. Anyone who's listened to Tea Leaf for a spell knows they're capable of soaring (and taking an audience upward with them) but Mathis helped them dig deeper. As Trevor Garrod sang, "I was once a flower, I'll be a flower again," they tilled downward with fervor, filling the tail section with the earthy scent of dark, rich soil.

Tea Leaf Green :: 12.07.07 :: Santa Cruz
It was but the first instance where this new configuration gave familiar pieces renewed shimmer and added body. All four men exhibited near uncontrolled delight at making music together, pushing themselves, their material and one another in the hopes of breaking through to something. For some it might be joy, for others mere entertainment, and for a few folks a sliver of enlightenment offered so gently it never feels like a lesson. Pushing so hard on so many levels gave even canonized compositions like "The Garden" trilogy or the head busting final encore "Franz Hanzerbeak" unexpected angles and the promise of more to come. There's a profound sense of possibility in the air as these four gel, learn the nuances of each other's styles and generally shake off any initial jitters.

To their credit, TLG didn't pick a timid setlist, instead choosing to leap into the unknown confident their latest arrival would keep pace. The high ceiling and general spaciousness of the Rio underpinned the natural bigness of their sound. With Mathis on bass it's becomes easier to imagine Tea Leaf's music filling an amphitheatre. The growing sophistication in Garrod's keyboards and vocals reveal a worthy descendent of songwriting pillars like Leon Russell and Elton John – populists extraordinaire with the chops of jazzmen. That mixture of the accessible and the exploratory at the heart of Tea Leaf Green has rarely been more evident than this performance. With Mathis onboard, there's simply nowhere they can't go and a good many places they might never have visited without him. One listen to this evening's "Jezebel" testifies with uplifted hands to this fact.

While change may be hard it's also inevitable. To remain stationary is to invite stagnation. The addition of a born rock star like Reed Mathis to the fold only increases the overall potential and potency of the group. And while there's much to be said about the value of loyalty and history, it's important to note that Ben Chambers chose to leave. This is not an easy lifestyle, and if one doesn't embrace it as a calling that drives every day then it will eat you up. Today's Tea Leaf Green is a special assortment of guys who infuse rock with that passion, keeping it agile and alert, shaking off the signs of age the genre frequently exhibits. If that idea appeals to you then this next stretch in TLG's ongoing tale should excite you a great deal.

Setlist:
Little Hood, If It Wasn't For The Money, Red Ribbons, Hot Dog, Piss It Away, One Reason, The Devil's Pay, Let Us Go, Don't Curse the Night, The Garden Pt 1 > The Garden Pt 2 > The Garden Pt 3, Jezebel, Precious Stone > Can You Guess It?
Encore: I've Got A Truck, Franz Hanzerbeak

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[Published on: 12/11/07]

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Comments

DiggityDawg starstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 10:49AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Dennis , well written as always. I have no doubt that Mathis was natural fit for TLG. Any idea if Mathis is temporarily filling in or is now a fulltime member?

moejoerisin Tue 12/11/2007 10:54AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

moejoerisin

dennis - great review, as always. this new line up sounds pretty killer, and your review definitely makes me want to check out 'tea leaf reed' asap.

canoftunapudding Tue 12/11/2007 10:54AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Mathis is awesome and I can't wait to see this configuration of TLG. I still think Oteil Burbridge is one of the best out there though.

trini. starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 11:05AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

trini.

Man ... I'm looking soooo forward to Fairfax next week. Bring it boys.

Buckner starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 11:19AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Spot on Dennis. Great pics Stilly. So looking forward to Winter Solstice.

Now if only someone can confirm that Reed is going to JitD.....hmmmm??

The1AndOnlyDJCT starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 11:43AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I can't wait to see them with Mathis! This sounds awesome, Reed Mathis is definitely the best bass player out there right now, and TLG is amazing, as is JFJO, I hope this is full-time!

shamasuva Tue 12/11/2007 12:24PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

The fact is that Ben C was the weakest (musically) member of TLG. His rapping and his energy will be missed but I don't think anyone would argue that TLG is a stronger band with Mathis on bass. My worry is that this is a temporary situation and TLG will have trouble finding a long term replacement (see WSP lead guitar seat)

cbauer Tue 12/11/2007 01:37PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

personally, (and unpersonally as a lot of my friends think this)... i thought the show was weak..... very weak. in fact... might have been a dissapointing night not for the turtle (who was ridiculous to put it mildly). i dunno what is was.. but something just wasn't right. Maybe it was the song selection.. maybe it was the lack of ben who'd drive my kinda setlist... or maybe it was the lack of the bobblehead of a bass player that would sometimes bring as much energy to the crowd as the music itself. But whatever that maybe might be... it was for sure just different. Different from the countless cds i have sprawled across my car and much different from the scores of shows id seen. I hate to be a damper on a nice writeup for one of my favorite bands... but tired of everyone (this site and TLG forum) being so dissillusioned with the switch. Do you guys not see the band before?

spitz66 Tue 12/11/2007 02:22PM
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I knew that TLG would be great with reed. Anything is great with reed so i had no doubts, my only concern is the same one Ive had since i first heard the news about reed joining the band; what does this mean for JFJO. I really can't see how it wont affect them. I dont want to piss off any TLG fans but JFJO is a far superior band and I can't help but thinking one of the greatest musicians of our time (Reed mathis) is wasting his time with a vehicle (TLG) that doesnt have the potential to really go places. I think he should be focusing on JFJO, and if he does divert his attention it should be to some kick ass side project with Benevento or one of those people. I like TLG and Ive seen them many times, they put on a tight shoe, they put on a fun show, but they're no JFJO.

onthemoon Tue 12/11/2007 02:33PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

onthemoon

what an upgrade. i love the ben songs but as a bass-player, he was the 25% of tlg that i felt indifferent about. listen to the jezebel and its all clear

Thebassman Tue 12/11/2007 02:48PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I'm in the band that opened this show (Asher's Satori) and it's kind of a bummer we didn't get any mention in this article! What's up with that???

moephishH2O Tue 12/11/2007 03:47PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

moephishH2O

Can't wait for Tahoe next month!

snappy Tue 12/11/2007 04:35PM
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snappy

Apologies to Asher's Satori for getting to the show late. I walked in and was told your set had just ended otherwise I would have included you in the review.

Chaloupka Tue 12/11/2007 05:34PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Chaloupka

cbauer,

Just because you miss the old bass player doesn't mean the show was weak. You should stop kidding yourself and realize that Mathis is going to make TLG way better than they ever could've been without him. He's FAR more talented than anyone else in the band.

zzach16 starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 06:12PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

zzach16

I thought the article was great. I'll look into Asher's Satori, as they must be good to get in on that lineup, but was grateful for the BTS review. I've been meaning to catch them for a while now, and now i know not to miss em. I'm stuck in the midwest, but am psyched to see TLG with Mathis. I'm always psyched to see TLG since they only come through here once in a while. I think a lot of the issue with changing or losing a member is chemistry. I've seen a band full of studs lose one and then gel better with what everyone perceived as a "less gifted" member. This is a team type atmosphere and adding an all-star sometimes changes how the team functions. Sounds like most people feel the team improved.

johnnygoff Tue 12/11/2007 08:24PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

johnnygoff

i've commented happily on this union. the question still remains though.

is this permanent?

bigchris starstarstarstar Tue 12/11/2007 10:28PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

good review, nice pics Josh. Good to see the 1st show with the new lineup go smoothly. I'll be in Fairfax to see for myself. I think a rock band like TLG has more potential than a jazz freak out like JFJO, much more accessable to more people. I've seen Reed and he is good, but best out there? Better than Roger Waters, John Paul Jones(what a reunion!), Dave Driewitz, Phil, Sting, Les, Dave S., Tony Levin? I've haven't seen that out of him.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 07:56AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

RedHeaven

Thanks for the great well written article once again. The writer seemed sensitive to the dynamics of TLG and their new chapter.

Ive been a huge fan of Blue Turtle since 03 and this paragraph written about their set might be the coolest thing I have ever read about them anywhere. Great descrpition! I have already read that paragraph like 10 times. They got a notion of Golgo Bordello, but with much more thought and emotion and less gimmick.

The best thing about these comaraderies that happen between bands (TLG having BTS support them a bunch lately) is that it gets the fans of one band into the other. I have been seeing TLG at HSMF and beyond for years now, but finally diving into their spirit workings and not just listening to a show here and there. I am truly coming to love and understand this band, and realizing how unique they really are. Im sure Reed is Taught to Bee Proud.

Thanks for reviewing a show in Santa Cruz as well. Nice change up.

cristalseth Wed 12/12/2007 08:24AM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
doubleipa starstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 09:20AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

doubleipa

Just saw TLG at the Troubadour in Hollywood. It was a pretty solid show, a lot of fun, pretty crowded. The setlists for that show and this one are very similar, which makes sense.

TLG is not merely a "bar band." When I see/hear them hit a peak I'm not thinking, "this is just like x or y or z," ie., "derivative bullshit."

URTH2URTH starstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 09:53AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

URTH2URTH

i loved these guys when i first heard them but after seeing them at riverview festival in chicago with umph i started second guessing it, they played some covers like AC/DC and played very heavy, i think they sound better more laid back and light. super talented group though i think one of the best new bands out there.

DonnieOutofHisElement starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 10:11AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I was just at the Troubador also. Awesome show! Can't wait until the Fillmore in Feb/March. The band seems reinvigorated and excited, the songs sound more poised and confident. I was even excited to hear IIWFT$ for the 1,000,000,000 time. Reed definitely adds a great deal and I am happy he is here now (permanently would be even better), but to think Trevor Garrod is not one of the best lyricist/songwrites/singers in this entire "scene" is absurd. In my opinion, what makes this band great is that it is not a bunch of scripted nonsense being poorly sung and then made up for by excellent technical ability, or even jazz so complex only a very limited audience has the patience for it (IMHO only one band could truly do the first part right, and I miss them incredibly). TLG has the total package and will go places because LOTS of people can appreciate different aspects of the band, more like how it was in the past with bands like the Band, the Allman Bros, Little Feat, etc - I guess what I mean is it is not just 37 dudes huddled together in a small room talking amongst themselves about how underappreciated their band is and hoping some one in it will die so America will mourn the loss of a great musician and the 37 dudes can say "I told you so" and feel self important - the cosmic plite of a true aficionado.

And I can't believe what I'm reading, "Just another bar band?" HA!...

"I hope it sounds good in your fancy the-ater."

KEEP IT MOIST until the next millenium.

Chapelchilla starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 11:21AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I don't know what to make of some of these hater's comments. Have you actually seen TLG play? They are far from a dumbed down bar band. These guys really have "it". The same "it" the Dead, Phish (pre-hiatus), 80's U2 and Springsteen all had. Bash away if you want but its true, and I have probably been to as many great shows over the years as anyone on here. Good music is universal and takes many forms but either you have the magic or you don't. Tea Leaf had it for sure, hopefully they still will with Reed. I will find out on the 28th and 30th.

Makisupa_McGee Wed 12/12/2007 11:22AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Makisupa_McGee

cristalseth, your comments are rediculous. ima big fan of jfjo, too, but for reed this is a great chance to explore a completely different side of the genre. reed is a ledgend and to see him take on so many different styles is only a testament to that, not a downgrade.

i was at the santa cruz show (mathis side) and I 100% vouch for its awesomeness. music was great and i had a really fun time

cristalseth Wed 12/12/2007 12:16PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I'm sorry you find my observation rediculous, I happen to find it absolutely absurd(and quite telling) that people in this thread actually have the gull to compare TLG to artists such as U2, Springsteen or The Band. I mean, I guess you guys are right in saying TLG is going places, because they certainly are. They're going to places like the Bluebird and the 8x10, all very nice bars in my humble opinion. But saying that they're the next [insert huge band name here] is straight asinine. How many bands has that been said about by now??? I'll let you guys count that out cause I sure don't have the time right now. I'd would say they have a good chance at being the next God Street Wine if I thought they had that much talent. Oh, by the way, how 'bout that GSW show the other week? Oh wait, there wasn't one, and there hasn't been one in a long time, and, sadly for many of you, that is what will inevitably be said about TLG somewhere down the road. Listen, it's cool that so many of you are TLG fanboys, i'm not knocking you guys per se, just stating this is an obvious step down for Reed, and, more likely than not, a cash grab on his part. More power to him cause we all gotta pay the bills somehow.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 12:52PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

RedHeaven

"Bar band" is a popular dis people use when they cant really describe why they dont like a band. Truthfully, some of the best sets of music I have ever heard were in bars.

Also want to further give kudos to the writer for using the words "KATE BUSH' and "THE POGUES" in that paragraph on BTS. I can sense what a true music lover D Cook is. Awesome! gave me goosebumps.

Chapelchilla starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 01:24PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Well, I guess there is no convincing you crystalseth, but it would be wise to give them another shot especially if Reed sticks around and they continue to evolve. BTW other bands I have seen in Bars include Pearl Jam, Janes Addiction, the Chili's, Alice in Chains (w-Layne), Ween, REM, Phish (3 times in bars, dozen+ other shows inc Big Cypress), String Cheese etc etc. Tea Leaf Green when they are "on" like say the 3-3-07 Boone show (available on LMA) is as good as any of the above. Im not a fanboy but I am a live music fan and TLG are well deserving of the praise they received in the article above and from most of these posters. Live in ignorance or see the light, it matters not me! Peace ya'll...

cuttyfives Wed 12/12/2007 02:22PM
Show -4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
cuttyfives Wed 12/12/2007 02:25PM
Show -4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Uncle Fishbits starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 03:23PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Uncle Fishbits

Why people that don't like a band come to an article to bash on them... well.. it simply suggests these are miserable, lonely, and bored people to unimaginative to actually offer anything of interest to the discussion.

I will say this... it was amazing to see Reed up there. I know, love, and respect Ben a whole bunch.... but Reed is a collassally talented musician, and I have a feeling this will lead the band down an amazing road and future. IMHO.

Those getting into "greatest band" arguments are polarizing and boring.... it is like Godwin's law.

You take this stuff to an extreme, only the extremists will be chiming in, while all the rest of us are excited, interested, supportive, and looking forward to the future of this great band!

rpmills starstarstarstarstar Wed 12/12/2007 03:28PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

>>>>They're going to places like the Bluebird and the 8x10, all very nice bars in my humble opinion.

They've also sold out THE Fillmore, shared the stage with Trey, have upcoming co-bills with the Wailers and Gov't Mule...a step above your average bar band imo.

Best of luck to TLG and Reed in the future. Looking forward to see if this can take the band to the next level. Josh is gonna have his hands full keeping up with Reed and Trevor meanwhile working on solo stuff.

Wow, this is the 2nd bass upgrade to a Bay Area band in the last few months...first New Monsoon picked up Ron Johnson from Karl D's band and now TLG gets Reed. Cool beans.

spitz66 Wed 12/12/2007 03:32PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

There's no way that Reed is doing this for money. He cares too much about music to do something just for money - and im not so sure this would make him that much more of it in the first place. Reed is doing thid because he's adventurous and likes try new things, keep it intersting and mix it up. He's in TLG becuase he wants to be, I just don't think its the best decision. TLG is good but theyre not amazing imo and there is so much amazing music out there. I think there are many bands with better songwriting, lyrics and musicicians as compared to TLG, so im just concerned that one of my favorite musicans from one of my favorite bands is spending time in one of those not so amazing bands.

doubleipa Wed 12/12/2007 03:37PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

doubleipa

It could be that he recognizes something in this group that those who think it is a bad move for him fail to. He is indeed very talented, and his opinion that this is a worthwhile venture and a worthwhile group of musicians to play with is a far more valid opinion than that of those who are worrying about a pockmark in his artistic integrity.

matt3 starstar Wed 12/12/2007 08:50PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

He,s getting paid..and hes a musician..far from the best..but just let it be people

doubleipa Wed 12/12/2007 09:22PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

doubleipa

Ooh. A call for silence. How poignant.

breadloaf starstarstarstarstar Thu 12/13/2007 08:50AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Dennis, very nicely written piece. I will look forward to more of your work in the future. Thanks for your efforts.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/14/2007 11:03PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

RedHeaven

One more thing: You guys, check out the last photo closely. What a great pic!! you got Reed's head thrashing downwards, and Josh's head thrashing upwards....just noticed how cool that photo was.

vwphan starstarstarstarstar Sat 12/15/2007 09:14AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Excellent writing Dennis. There is a very important fact to keep in mind about the two recent cali shows...., the band had not even rehearsed together until the day of the Santa Cruz show! Pretty amazing. These guys are all extremely talented. Ben will be missed, but Reed is a freak! they have the chance to be one of the great rock bands for generations to come! LONG LIVE the LEAF!!

The1AndOnlyDJCT starstarstarstarstar Sat 12/15/2007 11:07AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I personally love both TLG and JFJO. I am surprised there is so much uproar over Reed joining TLG. I mean, I don't know if this is permanent (I kinda hope it is, though I wouldn't want to see JFJO disappear), but he's played with Steve Kimock, and Bobby Previte, and other bands before. And it shouldn't be a huge surprise, I mean just this year he played with TLG at HSMF. Anyway, this was a great review, and while I loved Ben, I'm excited to see this band reach even higher heights with Reed, come back to the East Coast!

kh149 starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/7/2009 09:11PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

kh149

I see this hasn't been commented on in literally years, but I was researching on what Ben C. may be up to these days, which I hear he runs with dogs? Honestly I love TLG, but I'll listen to older shows with Ben C. and I can't wait for him to stop rapping, I became a fan when they obtained Mathis, Mathis is an all around great dude too! No I'm not tryin to hate at all either, so don't comment back yelling at me, just saying how I feel..