The real Ace Cowboy, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, played three tunes with Tea Leaf Green this weekend at the Rainforest Action Benefit in San Francisco. That’s an interesting cameo from Bobby, one that certainly brings with it a stamp of approval and some Iversonian street cred.
Lately I’ve had a little infatuation with Tea Leaf Green, which you may or may not have read about in the past few weeks. But I’m not the only one, no sir or madam. I met Tina Kelleher on the TLG boards after the 9/10 Knitting Factory show, and I immediately encountered the passion she has for music, and specifically TLG.
As we passed through the no-man’s land of bad country music and static that bridges the gap between where Burlington radio reception ends and where Boston’s begins, I switched our pre-sets from FM2 (Burlington) to FM1(Boston) and then focused my attention on the disc changer. My husband and I were at the midway mark of the four-hour ride from our northern Vermont home to Harper’s Ferry in Boston, en route to our sixth Tea Leaf Green show of 2005.
We’d seen our first TLG set at Berkfest in 2002 and were hooked immediately, buying two of the three discs they had for sale and waiting patiently for their return to the Northeast from their home in San Francisco. A year later, wishes now granted, they came back to New England and we caught the only show that we would see in 2003, at Boston’s Harper’s Ferry. They opened for Raq that night, and while Tea Leaf Green put on a great show, the bulk of the crowd arrived well after their set had ended; I think there were probably between 50-70 people there while they held court on stage.
In 2004, TLG gave us one tour through the Northeast in May and another in August, but this time we saw a mix of headlining and opening sets. The most epic show of both tours was without a doubt the sold out, line-around-the-corner gig at Nectar’s — yes, THE Nectar’s — the night after the final show at Coventry (which I thought to be rather apropos for my own personal reasons).
The Harper’s Ferry gig we’d seen a few months prior in May had been a co-headlining show with New Monsoon, which went on first. Not surprisingly, the room was pretty full by the time TLG took the stage, though I couldn’t be sure if this was a result of their increasing eastern popularity or because it was a Saturday night near the end of the school year. I pondered a similar question after Nectar’s, where so many people came simply to pay homage as opposed to truly being interested in the band which was playing that night.
After crossing into the Boston city limits, I switched back over to the FM1 pre-sets, knowing the city’s stations would be coming in perfectly now. My thoughts began to drift away when the skyline slid into view, and along with it, a familiar melody started drowning out the music on the radio. I had to laugh at myself – it never fails. Even now that I call a place that’s more than 200 miles away “home,” the familiar strains of “Dirty Water” continue to echo through my head as soon as those skyscrapers appear on the horizon: “Well I LOVE THAT DIRTY WATER… aaaaoooowwww, Boston, you’re my home…”
Boston was my home for the first 29 years of my life, but I love my newly adopted home in Vermont. There’s no question that it’s where I belong for the next chapter, but seeing that Boston skyline will always give me that sense of coming home, just as my beloved green mountains do now.
We pulled in to our parking spot and I took out my cell phone to call some friends who we’d be meeting to let them know we’d arrived and would see them inside. I joked with Bill about how this proves my point: There’s no need for me to switch my cell number from the 617 area code (Boston proper and a few suburbs) to 802 (the entire state of Vermont) – I never use my cell unless we’re on the road, and nine times out of 10 “on the road” includes a trip to Boston either for shows or to visit family. He waved me off and opened the back of our Subaru to grab his taping gear. I picked up the mic stand, the easiest to handle, and we headed into Harper’s Ferry so he could set up…
I recently read a review of the NYC show that took place the night after this Boston gig. One sentence of it sums up my philosophy on writing reviews so perfectly, that I’m going to steal it (with due credit to the author of course):
“I don’t review shows properly. I’ll try my best to put a spin on what I’ve seen or capture the atmosophere of what was goin’ down, but live music is the most subjective aspect of life. And I’ve never quite understand why anyone would attempt to review what they’ve just seen for people who can’t possibly experience it through the same central nervous system.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ace. For those of you who are familiar with TLG’s repertoire, I will provide a setlist for that Harper’s Ferry show. For those of you who are not but are curious enough to become so, this is the kind of setlist you’d love to see:
Hot Dog > Kali Yuga, Papa’s In The Backroom, Incandescent Devil, I’ve Been Seeking > Zoom Zoom, Rapture > Can You Guess It, Panspermic De-evolution, Vote On Tuesday, Taught To Be Proud, Rattlin’ > Waiting For The Man, Tequila
Encore: Georgie P, Professor’s Blues
I’d love to give you the blow-by-blow on which of these gems were particularly scorching, and which mellow grooves were expertly placed in the set, but I’m not going to do that – you can check it out for yourself and let your own central nervous system tell you when to dance and shake your bones. One song, however, stands out as a highlight for me simply because it served as a touchstone for the thoughts swirling through my head while visiting Boston: “Taught to Be Proud”.
I’ve heard the song several times live now, but I still only know the refrain:
Gone, gone, gone
Not gone for long
When you’re taught to be proud
Of where you come from
Perfect. I needed to hear this song as I stood there in my former stomping grounds at Harper’s Ferry, keeping a watchful eye on the Sox/Yanks game on the bar TVs, with my Boston pre-set radio stations in the car outside and my 617 area coded cell phone tucked into Bill’s taping bag.
Knowing that Tea Leaf Green’s keyboardist and principal songwriter, Trevor Garrod, comes from the farm country of northern California but is currently living in San Francisco drove the point home that much more. My story is the opposite, not only in terms of east coast versus west coast, but also having come from the bright lights of Boston and moving to the starlit hills of rural Vermont. I think the sentiment is the same, though.
As I stood there with a near-painful smile on my face, singing along at the top of my lungs, one of the more animated dancers in front of me turned around and caught me singing. He stopped mid-dance move, realized I did indeed know the words and thrust his extended hand at me with a huge smile on his face, exclaiming “RIGHT ON! These guys are awesome, they’re all I’ve been listening to for weeks!!”
I shook his hand, gave him the thumbs up and thought to myself “I hear ya…they’re all I’ve been listening to for three years.” I have a feeling our paths will cross again. Hello, if you’re out there, Mr. Green T-shirt with the Crazy Cowboy Hat.
It’s like déjà vu. I know there are people out there who, like me, have watched the evolution of a band’s career from a virtual unknown outside of their hometown to a national headliner. If you have, then you remember how you felt at your first show (or maybe it was the second, third or even fourth show when you really “got it”). You remember that excitement of having stumbled onto something special, something that spoke to you. It was only a matter of time before you made it your unofficial mission in life to see as many shows as you possibly could.
Looking back, you realize that in doing so, you met and became friends with more people than you ever thought you’d meet in your lifetime, simply because your paths crossed while on the same, albeit different, unofficial mission. Remember that day when you realized your life had been forever changed because the bus came by and you got on? That’s how this band feels to me.
It’s all very familiar: the same slow and steady expansion of tour dates, durations and reaches, that similar progression from rough-around-the-edges, raw talent to smooth, polished and thoroughly professional performances, and those bars and music halls that had once been so bare and cavernous slowly begin to fill, sell out, and the band moves on to new venues that can better handle the growing crowds, and with growing crowds comes the inevitable increase in familiar faces who grow into friends, traveling companions and sometimes, if you’re lucky, even soul mates.
Tea Leaf Green has just passed a milestone here on the East Coast, and I’m going to take this opportunity to recognize it: a sold out, headlining show at The Knitting Factory in New York City. Not even a week ago I was saying to Bill that I thought it would be a while before they sold out anywhere in NYC since they’d only been there a couple of times before, and both were boat cruise shows. First gig on land in NYC: no tickets available.
I’m thrilled to be proven wrong, having grossly underestimated the power of word-of-mouth and digital downloads. Going by the progression in attendance at the shows we’ve seen, I’d say it probably won’t be long until they’re selling out Harper’s Ferry. Each time the crowds have gotten bigger and the concentration of people clamoring for a spot close to the stage – dancing hard and singing along – has grown much larger. While I would prefer to see them at Harper’s Ferry for as long as possible, I would also welcome a switch to the Paradise, if for no other reason than watching another mile marker roll by on our journey.
September’s show in Boston was by far the best of all the previous Harper’s Ferry shows we’ve seen. But that’s to be expected when you’re talking about a band that’s spending more time on the road throughout the year than they do off of it. Their segues are really starting to shine, the jams are getting more cohesive, everything’s starting to click. Yet they still sound exactly like themselves, and I hope they’re able to hold on to that quality through all the ups and downs the music business can throw at a band.
It’s been one hell of a ride watching them grow over the past three years, and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.
For more information, check out their website at www.tealeafgreen.com.
Tina Kelleher, nee Campbell, likes to break dance to Tea Leaf Green’s rockin’ jams while taking notes on her Apple Newton (for a full bio, see the above post).