Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Jay Blakesberg and Dave Vann
Tea Leaf Green :: 03.01.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
It's absolutely exhilarating to encounter something that is utterly itself. To know one's self is the great goal of philosophers, wise men and saints - a drive to look into life's mirrors and face what one sees with conviction, honesty and perhaps even joy. The world of music is one of endless recombination. The base elements are out there – mathematics and emotions, poetry and technique - but it's difficult to assemble those things in ways that don't instantly remind the listener of what's come before. When music gets truly exciting is the point where the players reach a collective understanding of what sets them apart, what details define their face, the features that differ from the ancestors in their DNA.
TLG :: 02.29 :: The Fillmore|
By Jay Blakesberg
Before Tea Leaf Green's second night at the Fillmore, bassist extraordinaire Reed Mathis and I discussed the virtues of restraint and how music often thrives most when someone holds back and then carefully articulates each syllable they speak with their instrument or voice. Choosing to serve one's songs can have as much power as extended solos or endless flight of virtuosic fancy. "These guys can play! But people don't always catch that," said Mathis. "Being an adult means making choices." TLG and opener Blue Turtle Seduction are groups who've made their choices and arrived at a place of clear identity in an unclouded mirror, and as any smart Taoist will tell you, that's when good things really start to happen.
Something people forget is The Clash's Joe Strummer loved folk music. He embraced dockworker protest songs, Hank Williams and crusty English tweed picking. While not always obvious, folk floated in the background of his punk-pop-reggae thang. Ol' Joe would've loved Blue Turtle Seduction, who throw a monster backbeat and gonad rattling bass behind songs with folk's sturdiness, punk's restless drive, pop's urge to engage and reggae's head lifting wow. More than once during their completely engaging opening set, BTS recalled Strummer's under-sung final band, The Mescaleros. Tough and charming, the Turtles threw more grit into the works at this show, just the rocky fiber to fill in a sound that already has a painterly feel where colors are worked with a careful eye to the overall picture.
BTS' Christian Zupancic :: 03.01
By Dave Vann
While in the past BTS has worn a variety of costumes, this show found them in jeans and tees, workman's gear that reflected the sense they were diggin' in hard, carving out their place in the scheme of things. A wide curve into liquid funk – Bootsy Collins on superb collie weed shit – rose unpredictably into violin soundtracked cumulus. Elsewhere they married harmonica and 12-bar muscle to jazz swing in a way that coolly brought to mind John Mayall's short-lived Jazz Blues Fusion band. Each vocalist sang on this strong offering of new material in a way that made each individual singer stand out more than in the past. BTS is always good for a solid group chant but they've hit a place where each voice's nuances add something distinctive to the mix. They wrapped things up with a real "come on people, smile on your brother" vibe that also had the itch of good disco, a silver thread that laces up your skates and sends you flying. BTS is currently finishing their new studio album and if this set was any indication, we're in for a treat.
Tea Leaf Green dropped out of a blood red sky, Trevor Garrod crooning, "I'm gonna cut to the heart like a razor," and managing to make those words sound like an embrace on his golden tongue. The kid can sing. He's a piano man dropping ditties that hobos and hipsters alike can get empathize with. Warm and rough, Garrod is the descendent of the boys in The Band after a fat syringe of Paul McCartney juice. When I haven't heard him sing for a while, as I hadn't before this show, I'm always struck in the first few minutes by what a perfect, charming way his voice wraps around words. In another band, he'd be the star, eclipsing the out of focus guys behind him on tour shirts, but Tea Leaf is comprised of four strong personalities, four ventricles within a big, shared heart, pumping hard but always in a rhythm that invigorates the entire body.
Trevor Garrod :: 02.29 :: The Fillmore
By Jay Blakesberg
Listening to "Panspermic De-evolution" (a title dear dead Frank Zappa would have dug mightily) during the first set was the moment it hit me: Tea Leaf Green has jumped beyond their influences. While passionate, insatiable music nuts all, they've found their groove, their mojo, their raison d'être. As familiar as "Panspermic" is to anyone who's followed these cats for a few years, there's was a newness about it, as if the muscle memory of the thing has settled in and they're able to do new tricks with even well worn passages. That vibe touched pretty much every minute of this performance, including a beautifully ragged cover of AC/DC's 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" with local bartending legend Jason Finazzo (The Naysayers) on guitar and vocals. While hesitant to toss out blanket praise, when it's deserved it's worth offering. Sure, there were places the music didn't completely join together, a flubbed note here and there, but what band trying to engage with their material in real time doesn't have that? What TLG managed at the Fillmore was to fill in the nooks and crannies of every selection, giving them density and breath you could feel.
However, their ability to be thoughtful and technically skilled never got in the way of a pervasive "good times" feel, one of their distinctive features as live performers and an ace they hold against the other players in the touring game. Watching the capacity crowd from the balcony ebb and rise in time to their machinations, one felt they reached out to the whole room. To paraphrase a line from Stillwater's Jeff Bebe, they looked for the one guy not getting off in the back and made him pop. Some bands try to do this audience gathering magic and it just comes off as desperate. Watching TLG rock The Fillmore it was apparent this is just part of who they are. They exude fun and raucous energy and love and heartache. They've survived failure, wild times and dumb choices, and brought back some songs that'll help the rest of us make it, too. While the common denominator is often where the lowest form of art thrives (I'm looking at you, Poison…), Tea Leaf Green redeems the idea that shared melodies can bind folks together in a powerfully neat way. Looking around the room as the house lights came up after the sweaty encore slap of "Flippin' The Bird" and "Planet of Green Love," it was hard not to feel a little closer to folks. Their music weaved that spell and we're lucky to have it.
Mathis & Josh Clark :: 02.29 :: The Fillmore
By Jay Blakesberg
03.01.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Set 1: Red Ribbons, Precious Stone, Let Us Go1, Papa's in the Backroom, Panspermic De-evolution2, These Two Chairs, Cops Took My Weed1, Slept Thru Sunday, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap3,4 (1:03)
Set 2: Baseball Song > The Devil's Pay, Faced with Love1, Standing Still3, Jezebel, Moonshine1, Wet Spot, I've Got A Truck, Morning Sun (1:12)
Encore: Flippin' the Bird1, Planet of Green Love5 (0:13)
Notes: 1w/ Trevor on harmonica, 2w/ "Riders on the Storm" (The Doors), 3First time played, 4AC/DC cover w/ Jason Finazzo (The Naysayers) on guitar and vocals, 5w/ Ben C. on bass and Reed on guitar
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