Tea Leaf Green | 01.27 | St. Louis

Words & Images by: Neil Salsich

Tea Leaf Green :: 01.27.10 :: Blueberry Hill :: St. Louis, MO

Tea Leaf Green :: 01.27 :: St. Louis, MO
Great music has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you are exactly where you are supposed to be. That's its blessing and its curse - the in-the-moment current that sweeps the listener away for a few precious hours and drops them off at reality's doorstep when it's all over. Standing amidst a lively crowd at St. Louis' Blueberry Hill, hearing Trevor Garrod sing "One Reason" as the scene's most gently powerful rock & roll band began to paint their nightly masterpiece, that's exactly how I felt. The clarity of the music imparted clarity to the audience, and it was hard not to feel completely at ease.

Granted, the band's job was a little easier given the mood established by opening act Elmwood, who sated the room with an explosive set. I often find myself bemoaning the presence of an opening band - simply craving the music of the headliner - and it was a treat to have the Nashville quartet prove me wrong. Jaw dropping percussion, fiery and passionate sax playing, slick bass work and a charismatic frontman made up this fantastically tight band. Singer Ruston Kelly's voice was draped in a gravel-coated soulfulness that planted images of a David Gray-fronted jam band into my head.

But even the most talented of openers can't satisfy a crowd's enthusiasm for the headliner, and as Tea Leaf Green launched into "These Two Chairs," that enthusiasm was undoubtedly released. Fists flew into the air in unison with Garrod's voice as he sang the band's battle call: "And the kids, they just don't understand/ but they've got a rock & roll band!" The crowd sank with ease into the music as the band continued into "One Reason." I'm not sure whether it's coincidence or mission, but TLG certainly has found their convention. They work with rock & roll's basic stuff - grit, soul, twang, rhythm & blues - grappling with it, reworking it and wringing it out for all it's got.

Josh Clark :: 01.27 :: St. Louis, MO
They catch a lot of flak as musicians in a scene where the boundaries of tonal, melodic and rhythmic structure are consistently tested, expanded and completely broken. Though that approach is what makes so much of live music thrilling and entertaining as a fan, there must also exist an opposite pole where rock music can retreat to its roots and recycle its initial spark all over again. As much as they've embraced change, in part due to the addition of bass player Reed Mathis, it's comforting to know that their music and mission as a band is not ephemeral; they are committed to their craft and their purpose. Their sound is at once epic and roots-based, anthemic and down-to-earth, at home alongside the canons of Neil Young, Tom Petty and the Grateful Dead, the latter of whom they share with another crucial and masterfully crafted ability - getting the crowd moving. As much of TLG's magic stems from their emotive lyrics and passionate songcraft, just as much is found in their role as a dance band. A skeptic simply needs to experience a live "Franz Hanzerbeak," "Sex in the70's," or as the St. Louis crowd was lucky enough to catch, a "Precious Stone" > "Don't Curse at the Night" sequence.

As individuals, the group was a thrill to witness. Axeman Josh Clark owned the stage, strutting around his small portion with swagger and sass. His guitar playing was phenomenal and contradicted various critics who write him off as technically shallow. Though his phrasing is heavily rooted in classic rock, the emotion in every bend, snap and strum of his Les Paul shone through as truly his own. His licks were savory, soulful and thick, spurring mental references to a young Dickey Betts; I suspect his melodic sense owes much to the Allmans and the rest of southern rock's royal family.

Reed Mathis :: 01.27 :: St. Louis, MO
With over a year as a full time member under his belt, it's safe to say Reed Mathis has fully assimilated into the mix. A year ago (in Columbia, MO - this reviewer's last TLG show) he surely wasn't displaying the confidence, energy and adventurous spirit that he brought onstage this time. The shaggy redheaded virtuoso added a distinct flair, fullness and curiosity to the songs. His vast musical knowledge and experience with countless musical projects is a welcome benefit, especially in conjunction with drummer Scott Rager, who delivered a set's worth of precise and pulsing percussive sealant to the musical dialogue between Mathis, Clark, and Garrod.

Admittedly the core of the group, it's Garrod's slick hands and even slicker pen that gives the band the upper hand. In a live setting, it's thrilling to hear his voice ring clear over the pulsing mayhem of a rock band in full force. Moreover, his songwriting skills are fantastic; he possesses the oft sought yet rarely achieved ability - Neil Young and Bob Marley come to mind - to string together the simplest of words into the most moving of sentiments and pair them with utterly infectious melodies. Top it all off with one hell of a set of hands, and you've the recipe for rock & roll euphoria. Whether it was on a beautiful "Earth and Sky," a jubilant "Ride Together" or a downright nasty "Precious Stone," Garrod's fingers flew nimbly over the keys and sent constant streams of shimmering, sparkling notes over the rest of the boys' rock solid outfit. As a spectator nicely commented, "He's either shining on the keys or screamin' on the organ."

Seeing this band, one can't escape feelings of hope, happiness and freedom. The purity to their approach and obvious passion for their craft exuded these three sentiments throughout the night. What's amazing about a band like this - and a hallmark of any great live band - is their complete surrender to the show. I mused on the fact that though this tiny club in St. Louis couldn't have seemed farther away for a band from San Francisco, they played as if it was a sold out hometown crowd. Garrod was even so enthusiastic that at one point near the show's end he completely flipped over his stool! It makes an audience feel appreciated, and by putting on a hell of a show for a few hundred music-hungry Midwesterners, that's what a band like this does best.

Tea Leaf Green :: 01.27.10 :: Blueberry Hill :: St. Louis, MO
These Two Chairs, One Reason, Earth and Sky, Papa's in the Backroom, Without A Broom, Innocence, Not Fit, Standing Still, Hello Jane, Precious Stone, Don't Curse at the Night, Ride Together, Fallen Angel, Let Us Go, Drink of Streams, Country Seduction, Easy To Be Your Lover, Freedom
E: Don't Let It Down, The Garden (Part III)

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[Published on: 2/4/10]

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