Photo by Andrew Blackstein
In October 2012, Tea Leaf Green launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the recording and production of their eighth studio album. The goal? Raise $25,000. In their Kickstarter mission statement, the San Francisco jammers promised that crowdfunding would help them create a “fresh perspective” on their music by allowing them to take new routes in the studio. Fans met the call for contributions with overwhelming support, chipping in more than $29,000 in just one month.
It turns out that the “fresh perspective” notion was an understatement: In the Wake, released in May, is the quintet’s most eclectic album, a collection of ethereal songs that sound considerably different from each other but flow together seamlessly. It’s interesting and emotive, with heady layers of string, horn, and vocal arrangements, and a trilogy of songs titled “Space Hero” woven amongst the other tracks—a fitting indicator of the album’s awesomely out-there sound. In the Wake is a super-polished record by a quintessential live band.
At Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ, Tea Leaf Green turned the polish to live prowess. After a serene and soulful 10-minute opener, “Innocence,” the band switched into dance party mode with In the Wake’s “Penny Saved,” a funky disco jam featuring an electrifying bass solo by Reed Mathis. Mathis also sang “Don’t Go,” a poignant track he penned for the new album—Trevor Garrod’s upbeat keys made the song a little less of a tearjerker than the In the Wake version. The guys morphed into ultra-heavy rock stars on the headbanging trek “Space Hero II,” with Josh Clark howling the song’s trippy lyrics, then transferred their stomping momentum into the guitar-shredding “Space Hero IV.” Drummer Scott Rager—who Clark shouted out for founding the band—held down the rhythm all evening in the absence of percussionist Cochrane McMillan.
The crowd at the suburban restaurant-slash-venue danced just as hard to the new material as the old. “Stormcloud” took shape as a thundering jam while “Living Honestly” brought a touch of old-school country (and a little bit of yodeling by Clark) to the set. “Criminal Intent” started as a slow-burn, built up steadily with meandering jamming, and suddenly turned into Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” much to the excitement of the audience. The band closed the set with a version of “Germinating Seed” that brought Garrod to his feet at the keyboard.
The show supported a major point Tea Leaf Green made on Kickstarter regarding its latest direction: “We’re focusing more on the individual sound of each band member and perfecting his part of the songs to create a more cohesive sound.” It’s safe to say that In the Wake owes its multifaceted freshness to this overarching concept, but it’s just as apparent live. Tea Leaf Green doesn’t sound like a band under the direction of one leader (if there’s a de facto leader, he keeps it pretty well disguised) – it sounds like collaboration between musicians engaging in each others’ equally captivating talents.