Today, we welcome yet another guest-blogger to the Live Music Blog fray: John Mellgren. His first review here is a run-through of his first Tea Leaf Green show ever, January 30, 2006 in Grand Rapids, MI.
Hot. That’s all you need to know about a Tea Leaf Green show. I first heard about Tea Leaf Green after their “breakout” performance at Bonnaroo 2005. I also knew that both Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio have sat in with them in recent months, so I assumed that they must be the real deal. Why else would these musical gods waste their time with them? Seeing them live last night made me finally understand all the hype.
I must warn you up front, having only heard a couple shows before attending, I am not yet familiar enough with their repertoire to be able to name every song they played (I can only tell you that they played “The Garden (Pt III)”, “Taught to be Proud”, and a cover I discuss below). However not knowing the name of the song they were playing definitely did not detract from the music that filled my ears throughout the evening.
The venue (The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI) was surprisingly empty. Being empty is a matter of perception however, as the club is very large (been told that it’s actually an old warehouse). There were still 200-300 people there, a number that would probably pack most other clubs. The result was that everyone had plenty of room: the dancers could dance and there were plenty of open tables to chill and have a beer at.
My first reaction to TLG was that they sounded a bit like several other young and generic jambands that I had heard in the past. I soon realized, however, that TLG is definitely not like any other jamband out there. What sets them apart from the rest is that they nail every song every time. Maybe it was just a seemingly perfect show that I witnessed, but it appeared that everything they tried worked and worked well. Some of their jams started out a bit sketchy but pretty soon the guys were all on the same wavelength and came together in a beautiful mix of sound. While these guys can definitely jam out, they also have songs that are lyrically beautiful (and catchy) as well.
I have seen many shows where there are both highlights and lowlights. They have some songs you just wish would end, hoping that the next song would be something enjoyable. Not so with TLG. Not once did I wish for a song to end. Every song in fact kept the audience engaged and wanting more (except for one girl who sat in the corner, looking like she was pouting for the entire show). Their jamming was never too much and their songs were never too short. Every song had a good combination of lyrical sections coupled with instrumental madness. What they have figured out is how to craft well written songs that leaves plenty of room for jamming, but their jamming is never overkill. They seem to know the recipe that includes the perfect combination of a catchy chorus and blistering guitar and keys. Of course, all this is backed by an incredibly powerful drummer and bassist (which to be honest, I would to have liked to see these guys take a more prominent role, but they definitely kept the motor running all night long).
For me personally, the highlight of the night was actually a cover song. The song began with only Trevor playing the keys and soulfully singing the opening lines of the song. I immediately knew that a cover was being played and that I should recognize it, however I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. In fact I started to get a little pissed off that I couldn’t figure it out and then Trevor filled me in as he sang me the title of the song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a classic track from the great Bob Dylan. It was almost surreal as the atmosphere seemed to momentarily change to that of a high school dance as several couples began to slow dance to the song. The rest of the band quickly took care of that however as they entered and created an absolutely beautiful interpretation of this Dylan classic. It was one of those songs that started softly and slowly and then grew into a mammoth of a piece. I don’t really know how to properly describe what I heard, but it was truly incredible to see.
Check these guys out if you can. They are touring nonstop all over the country and their shows are dirt cheap (only 8 bucks last night). You will not be disappointed.