Concert review and set list: Tea Leaf Green (with the Stone Foxes) pours it on at the Firebird, Thursday, June 7
Even the generously-sized stage of the Firebird was overcrowded with instruments on Thursday night, when San Francisco’s Tea Leaf Green treated their fans to an evening jam-style rock ‘n’ roll.
The band’s five-man lineup included two full drum sets, mastered by Cochrane McMillan and Scott Rager, and a trio of musician-vocalists up front. Josh Clark stood at the helm, donning a t-shirt, jeans and an electric guitar in the true image of the classic American rocker, with Trevor Garrod at the right, playing his counterpart in a feathered bowler hat, button-down shirt and gray jacket, parked behind a three keyboard/organ set-up. At the far left, Reed Mathis dressed for comfort, accessorizing only with his electric bass and a bevy of facial expressions.
To further clog the stage, the night’s opening act, the Stone Foxes, brought their full set-up, including a third drum set with a backlit kick drum bearing their emblem, another keyboard and organ set-up, bass, and a guitar rack, stocked with a small collection of axes. The set-up proved to be worth the hassle, as their music demonstrated a true love for the full variety of classic rock music. Their sound constantly embodied the style and influence of many bands spanning the decades, from the Beatles and the Who, tastes of Rush, and the energetic Black Crowes, and all four members contributed to the vocals.
Their set seemed a little standard at first, as they followed the expected format of traditional rock music, but they quickly built rapport with crowd by exhibiting their mastery of many styles and displaying a true love for what they were doing. The crowning point of their set may have come in the 8th of 10 songs, a Louisiana Stomp-styled piece that was reminiscent of current day contemporaries, the North Mississippi All-Stars. This piece was led by Elliott Peltzman, the keyboardist, who descended from the stage with a tambourine and started a brief, but enthusiastic conga-line in the crowd, and was joined by a chanting style verse from the drummer, Shannon Koehler, on stage. The Stone Foxes were certainly a welcomed opening act.
By the time Tea Leaf Green took the stage, the crowd had steadily filled the floor, but ultimately did not pack the venue too tightly to leave room to dance, which became inevitable by mid-set. Trevor started the first song, “I’ve Been Seeking,” softly on keys, drawing the crowd in slowly. As the song built, he displayed his talent by handling the lead vocals whole steadily increasing the amount of improvised deviations he took from the song’s basic composition. There was a moment during the song when the two drummers appeared to be in mirrored unison, although typically Scott Rager would handle the main beat on the right set of drums, while Cochrane would accent the sounds with further percussion and finesse over the toms and cymbals.
One of the more distinctive assets that Tea Leaf Green packed was their bassist, Reed Mathis. Mathis handled the bass like a guitar during his solos, able to strum out chords freely and handle fast pieces with hammer-ons and tap style mania. Without ever seeming out of place, he embodied the sound of ’80s rock gods shredding an extended solo at a giant arena show. Reed seemed to feed off the crowd as they stirred, simmered, and boiled into a frenzy throughout the set. By the end, his thick beard disappeared behind a gigantic grin, while he rocked and stomped across his corner of the stage.
“Taught to Be Proud,” the title track off their 2005 album, seized the audience’s attention early in set. It opened with Trevor on keys and vocals. His two hands were in complete contrast, as his right hand shuffled out riffs and short chords, yet his left hand never appeared to leave the keys, drifting softly across with almost unnoticeable pressure. The song progressed through a chaotic full band jam into a funk style guitar solo, backed by a wild arpeggio on a small synthesizer, both with effects pedals aplenty. McMillan seemed to dance across the toms as the full band went into an extended jam session, and the piece concluded with a furious guitar solo and an eruption of ovation.
The final piece of the set included a notable instrumental session that started with a fast, offbeat guitar riff, and then quickly broke to a deep jazz groove. It built with elements of funk and fusion until the whole band was captivated by the jam, highlighted by Clark and Mathis trying to match each other as they both pulled out all their best riffs. They left the stage for just a brief moment, only to return for a two song encore of hand-picked crowd pleasers, each with a fresh bottle of beer in hand. Their faithful discussed the set list as we all marched out, making declarations all of their favorite moments, and ranking Thursday’s show among the best.
Tea Leaf Green set list:
I’ve Been Seeking
Taught to be Proud
Easy to Be
Training a Cloud
Got a Truck
All photos by Wil Wander.