Peanut Butter and Jelly. Thanksgiving and Turkey. Whiskey and Ginger. Tea Leaf Green and The Crystal Bay Club. Some things are just better in pairs. Since their first visit to the venue in 2006, Tea Leaf Green has always brought something a little extra to the Crown Room. Some have hypothesized that it is the elevation change between their hometown of San Francisco and Lake Tahoe that manifests such unique performances. Others argue that it’s the extraordinarily intimate venue that is ideal for the band, who has a kin like relationship with their dedicated fan base. Whatever the case may be, Tea Leaf Green put on yet another mind-blowing display of music at the Crystal Bay Club in Lake Tahoe last Saturday.
With a sound that is as much jam band as Top 40 radio hit, Tea Leaf Green has struggled in recent years to find a balance between the face melting psychedelia that put them on the map, and the straight forward pop songs that showcase their lyrical brilliance. As we would come to understand on this night, Tea Leaf wholeheartedly believes they can do both. Opening with “If It Wasn’t For The Money”, the band wasted no time visiting their improvisational roots. A move straight into “I’ve Got a Truck” set a romantic theme that would carry throughout the night. After a concise “Truck” jam Reed Mathis led into “Georgie P” with a thumping bass line. The funky instrumental got the entire crowd moving under the large vaulted ceiling above.
Josh Clark wasted no time entering the jam with a psychedelic prowess I have not heard in many years. Backed by the relentless drums of Scott Rager, which are now accented exceptionally well by Cochrane McMillan’s percussive fills, the band moved with a vengeance towards the song’s peak. Trevor Garrod’s irresistible piano led into “Papa’s In The Backroom”. “Papa’s” was the night’s first example of Garrod’s lyrical prowess. The song’s final line, “Everyone sings along, not because it is a hit, just because it’s a real good song” was fitting as nearly every member of the audience did just that.
A blissful jam out of “Papa’s” saw Reed’s unique bass sound guide Josh into one of his cleanest and most patient solos to date. Carrying that energy, he rolled the audience along with his own “New Shoes”. As Josh sported flashy bowling shows himself, the band’s lighthearted spirit was alive and well. The timeless ballad “One Reason” showcased the band’s straightforward rock and roll power as the crowd soaked up Garrod’s desirable lyrics.
Tea Leaf followed up with a cover of the Stanley Brother’s “Little Maggie”. This first time cover fit nicely into the underlying romance theme of the set list. After blowing “Maggie” to pieces in typical Tea Leaf style, the opening bass line of “Franz Hanzerbeak” began rattling the floor. Written by the band’s original bass player Ben Chambers, “Franz” has become somewhat of a rarity since his departure in 2007. The instrumental jam found its way into a funk utopia almost immediately. Garrod laid down a jazzy solo over the top of Reed’s relentless bass. As the band continued to ooze improvisational funk, the small audience covered every inch of the dance floor. It was apparent then that Tea Leaf had once again come to Tahoe with no intention of playing a straightforward, song based show.
The Meatpuppet’s “Lake of Fire”, another first time cover, followed suite. The band worked right into “Fallen Angel”, a song off their latest album, which has quickly grown into a fan favorite. Cochrane and Rager led the band into a breakdown jam that carried an impressive groove. At this time it became obvious that they would play a single set show. While there has been much debate over whether the band functions better with or without a set break, I had no trouble with them keeping the party going on this particular night.
One of my favorite lyrical exhibits, “Dreaming Without Sleeping”, graced the Crown Room next. The slow paced ballad surprisingly worked its way into a remarkable piece of improv, foreshadowing what lay ahead. The energy in the crowd increased tenfold as the band ripped into the opening of “Jezebel”. Dropping right into funk laced psychedelia, they wasted no time pushing the song to its limits. The band weaved brilliantly through several musical landscapes. From the high peak of Josh’s warm guitar, to the shallow valley of Cochrane and Rager’s pummeling drum solo, Tea Leaf left nothing untouched.
Turning right around and into another rock based anthem, the band tore into “Honeybee”. The upbeat, lighthearted love song sat in perfect contrast with the damp psychedelic cave we had just escaped from. Covers of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and Faces’ “Ooh La La” followed. The band seemed to be feeding off the crowd’s energy as they continued to rage late into the night. Because Crystal Bay is a casino, curfews are more guidelines than rules.
This was apparent as the band opened up “Can You Guess It” and stretched it to the far reaches of the universe. The jam chugged along in classic Tea Leaf fashion, accented by Garrod’s relentless keys and Josh’s passionate guitar. Pushing the crowd into a frenzy, the band left nothing on stage as they energetically ripped through the show’s closer. After a brief time backstage the band came back to put the icing on the night’s romance theme with “Honeymooners”. Played for the first time at Crystal Bay on Valentines Day ’09, “Honeymooners” was a perfect vehicle to bring the crowd back down to earth.
As if anyone had any doubts, Tea Leaf Green showed us all once again that they love playing in Lake Tahoe. Perhaps it is the sudden lack of oxygen that propels them into a state of face melting machines. Or maybe it is the intimacy of the venue that allows the band to feed off their wildly devoted fan base. Regardless, Tea Leaf Green and the Crystal Bay Club is a match made in musical heaven. After recently announcing a Kickstarter.com campaign to raise money to finish their eighth studio album, the band is showing no signs of slowing down after twelve relentless years of touring. And with a show like last Saturday’s we can also say, with absolute certainty, that TEAhoe lives on!
Tea Leaf Green
Crystal Bay Club Casino
Crystal Bay, NV- October 6th, 2012
If It Wasn’t for the Money>I’ve Got a Truck>Georgie P, Papa’s In The Backroom, New Shoes, One Reason, Little Maggie1>Franz Hanzerbeak, Lake of Fire2, Fallen Angel, Dreaming Without Sleeping>Jezebel, Honeybee>Baby Let Me Follow You Down3, Ooh La La4>Can You Guess It
1Stanley Brothers cover
3Bob Dylan cover