My First Tea Leaf Green Show

Tea Leaf Green
The Lymbyc Systym

February 4, 2006
Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL

For anyone that’s followed this blog for the past few months, you’d know that there’s a lot of talk about Tea Leaf Green these days. The quartet from San Francisco, anchored most strongly on Trevor Garrod’s keyplaying and songwriting, is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with.

While I’ve listened to plenty of Tea Leaf Green thus far through the Archive and any other source I can find (namely, their podcasts), I’m very unfamiliar with their songs and their shows.

It’s funny to think of all the chances I’ve had in my recent history to actually see Tea Leaf Green, and yet last Saturday night was the first time I’ve witnessed the hype first-hand. The band was stopping in Chicago to finish up their first tour jaunt in 2006, so you could predict that the show would rage simply by the fact that the guys would be sleeping in the next morning.

I knew I wouldn’t miss the guys this time around, I knew I had to bring friends, and I was pretty sure that we were in for a treat…

I’ll be honest, though–part of me did not want to have fun at this show. You know that feeling that you get sometimes, like, you don’t want to believe all the hype because you feel that it’s just that?

And I’d like to go on record saying that I don’t mean to perpetuate the whole Tea Leaf Green is the next big thing! cheer or the Dude, they’re totally over-hyped! statement either way as a part of this review, but I think there’s a little truth to both of those statements.

The point of my tangent is that I had a mixed expectations for this show. Tea Leaf Green had to bring it–they just had to. If they didn’t, I’d have to question the reputation of plenty of music fans and collegues. I mean, that just wasn’t going to happen here.

But based on what I had heard of Tea Leaf Green, I swore there was an element of predictability to their music that bugged me. I have to admit that I’ve had thoughts that I felt that their music was just too much a typical jamband, if there even is one…

Even with these mixed signals I was sending myself, I decidedly brought my highest hopes and optimism to the show and I was ready for a fun night.

The opener, The Lymbyc Systym, is a brotherly duo from Arizona that was hanging out in Chicago for a couple days before the show. Jared and Mike Bell play keys and drums, respectively, and their sound is certainly not as minimalist as their roster. They had played the Wednesday night prior at the Tonic Room (which I skipped), and their only commentary of the night besides thanking Tea Leaf Green and the Abbey was a simple, “It’s cold outside…”

I can imagine a couple dudes from Arizona having a serious problem with a Chicago Saturday night in February–even if we were having unseasonably warm temps at the time. It didn’t affect the music at all, though…

Their five song opening set started with a sample, a Bjork-like build-up, a small post-rock explosion, and a cool-down clickity-clack beat over some high-level sound swirls and back to the post-rock explosion. I’m sure I’m one of the only ones who actually knows this, but this is a song called Birds that the guys have made available as released from a new live EP they’ve just finished…

Imagine the Benevento / Russo Duo meets Tortoise, and that’s kinda what they sounded like. I don’t want to over-generalize on sound there, either, so I can rephrase that first statement as “If you imagine the Benevento / Russo Duo’s music having sex with and impregnating Tortoise’s music, this is what their offspring would sound like…”

Personally, I loved it. I think these guys have a bright future ahead of them–I hope they know it–and their relative infancy in age and experience is going to lend plenty of good years ahead for the band.

The crowd really enjoyed the opener and they were ready to go by the time Tea Leaf Green hit the stage around 10:30pm and started with a couple tunes that got lost in the crowd shuffle for position. As my group tried to assemble during These Two Chairs and Incandescent Devil, it wasn’t until John Brown that I was all, “ok, I’m starting to believe…” I grabbed a spot Trevor-side and let John Brown consume me–the song hasn’t left my head since the show. Leaving five men dead he said, “the good Lord was to blame…”

I turned to Katie and in my best impression of Lawrence Fishburn playing Morpheus talking about Neo facing the agent for the first time…

“He’s starting to believe…”

There’s definitely something that gets lost on the live-to-tape translation that you simply cannot hear when listening to Tea Leaf Green. It was weird, I’m not sure how to explain it other than that. It’s just lost–you need to see them live if you want a feel for the band’s strength.

After that and Pond, the guys don’t stop until the end of the set. Somehow, they made it sound more seamless than I even realized possible at the time. It wasn’t until I looked at the setlist that I realized how much they had thrown in, with my unfamiliarity with the band responsible for that minor ignorance.

The venue filled up, my friends and I were having a blast, Kali Yuga was smokin’, and Panspermic De-evolution closed an amazing first set. We relaxed upstairs during setbreak and waited for another round of music. The pints of Harp continued…

Onto the second set, the opening of Taught to be Proud led the way into band fan familiar territory. I mean, that’s like, their single. Their hit. Their self-titled track from their latest CD. It was welcomed warmly…

And then I’ll be honest…the rest of the set is a blur. Gasaholic was nice once I figured out that it was a tune I recognized. Rapture was definitely a highlight for me–it’s one of my TLG favorites so I was glad to hear that. Do You Think I’m Sexy? was okay and all, but I just felt that it was too cheesy to cover, period. Franz Hanzerbeak was well-received to end the set and I was just so psyched that they had played most everything that I knew I wanted to hear.

Tea Leaf Green showed up in Chicago, sold-out a 600-person club, played like it was their last chance to play Chicago ever, and left into the night after a smokin’ Sex in the 70’s. I finally understood that Tea Leaf Green had the ability to overcome hype, the ability to switch from blues to Zappa-like jams, and the ability to give the fans more music than they know how to digest in one week’s time.

I’ve been listening to the show all week just trying to make sense out of how the show left me, and I’m happy to say that I’m a new Tea Leaf Green fan. My group enjoyed the show, we all had fun, we enjoyed just about every second of the music, the crowd was respective, excited, and everything else that you’d hope for. Tell me again why I never caught these guys before?

Hi, my name is Justin, and I’m a Tea Leaf Green fan…

“Hi, Justin!”

As a full aside, I had one of the funniest drunk exchanges with this guy named Brian? (maybe, Greg?) from Des Moines, IA. I don’t remember his name, but we gave each other the fabled Doesn’t-Tea-Leaf-Green-rule? glances during the second set during the late part of the show. I told him about my blog, and he was like, “yeah, I’ve been there…” I gladly waited for all the praise and kind words about the site and was left there with no direct response.

We did start chatting about how, from our vantage point, you could not see the Tea Leaf Green bassist, Ben Chambers. Correct me if I’m wrong, though, but on the Piney’s Apples #2 (TLG’s podcast), isn’t Ben referred to as Franz Hanzerbeak not once, but twice? Also, on TLG’s website, there it is…Franz Hanzerbeak on bass.

So when we started talking about Ben, I say “yeah dude, Franz Hanzerbeak is sick…” and he was all, “uhm, I think his name might be Ben…”

You can imagine where this might be headed, and I only added fuel to the fire…

“Naw, I thought it was Franz Hanzerbeak…”

The look on his face was just priceless, because I immediately realized what I had said and he quickly responded with, “Well, I think I’m about 100-MILLION percent certain…”

I quickly tucked my tail between my legs and refocused on the music. Damn you Harp Ale and your sweet, sweet, drunky-lovely taste…