Tea Leaf Green is a band constantly on the move. After playing over 400 shows all across the country in the past three years, rolling into Boston’s Paradise Rock Club for a two-night stand this past Wednesday and Thursday must have felt like taking a long vacation from the road.
The band is comfortable with its touring identity. Many of their songs speak of life on the road, with the most poignant lyric coming in ‘Keeping The Faith,’ the last track on their 2008 album Raise Up The Tent. It exclaims, ‘we’ll raise up our tent in any town that will have us, or else we’ll be moving on.’
And the song ‘Still Standing’ that kicked off the first set Wednesday night saw the band settle in to town, with its chorus of ‘I am still standing still’ perhaps alluding to their upcoming day off the road.
While the music of many bands tends to fall into a specific category or genre, it is difficult to come up with one sweeping word that sums up all that is Tea Leaf Green.
It’s tempting, while listening to Trevor Garrod’s crooning piano ballads, to categorize them as a folk band, until Josh Clark’s guitar melts your face. You could call them a rock band, and then Reed Mathis will unleash a bass groove that would make Bootsy Collins blush. You could even classify them as a funk band, until you witness Scott Rager lead everyone through a clinic of heavy metal drumming before the whole band emerges on the other end in the midst of a ferocious jam that bursts with energy.
And that’s just one song
It is this genre-bending originality, combined with an explosive live show and a dedication to great songwriting that has led these musicians from San Francisco on a musical journey that is showing no signs of being derailed.
At Thursday night’s show the focus was firmly back on traveling onward, as the show kicked off with ‘Ride Together,’ which segwayed seamlessly into ‘I’ve Got A Truck,’ during which Garrod sings, ‘if the highway is a kingdom, you can be my queen.’
But it wasn’t until ‘Devil’s Pay’ that the band really started to settle in and showcase just what makes them so appealing. Mathis, who has only been playing regularly with the band for the past year after the departure of longtime bassist Ben Chambers, laid down a funky bass line, a theme that would enthusiastically return throughout the night. With Garrod’s forceful vocals prophesizing anarchy and doom, he and Clark were each able to stretch out on their instruments, with Clark digging into a thick solo and Garrod providing multiple layers of keyboard underneath.
After an extended jam, the song emerged as the sorrowful ballad ‘All of Your Cigarettes,’ before Mathis again got the crowd dancing with a groove that turned into ‘Panspermic De-evolution,’ another long odyssey that saw the band delve into Megadeth-esque heavy metal.
When the band returned from a set break, they unleashed a blistering second set that will not be soon forgotten by any who witnessed.
The opening instrumental ‘Baseball’ gave way to Garrod standing and cradling the microphone while singing the first few lines of ‘Got No Friends in Arizona’ to a rapturous crowd. Clark took to the lead vocal duties again for a semi-serious romp through ‘Relax and Get Naked,’ but it was when Tea Leaf Green stepped back from the microphone that jaws started to hit the floor.
‘The Garden (Part II)’ provided a platform for the entire band to explore the limits of their instruments. Garrod, barely lifting his head from his keyboards, sprinkled complicated piano lines throughout the jam while Clark referenced a random and wide-reaching assortment of songs on his guitar, from a quick interlude into Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brink in the Wall’ to covering the vocal line of J-Lo’s ‘Jenny from the Block.’
The sharp opening riff of ‘Hot Dog’ was another instrumental exploration, with Clark’s scat singing giving way to a long jam. After a breakdown, Garrod slyly began singing the opening lines of The Doors’ ‘Alabama Song,’ to which Clark quickly joined in, with the crowd joining the two in singing the refrain ‘show me the way to the next whiskey bar.’
The sultry-funk-turned-lightning fast bluegrass of ‘Gasaholic’ closed out the second set, before an encore of ‘Let Us Go’ absolutely brought the house down. In the midst of a harmonica break, Garrod stepped out from behind his keyboards and walked along the edge of the stage to the center, where he and Clark proceeded to have a harmonica duel that alone proved to be worth the price of admission.
Nothing ever stops for Tea Leaf Green ‘- they are constantly touring, constantly adding songs to their live show, and constantly creating new ways to thrill their audience. And with performances like the ones that graced the Paradise main stage on Wednesday and Thursday, their rise through the music world doesn’t seem to be coming to a stop any time soon.
Dan knows his music.