Concert review and set lists: Tea Leaf Green and Tumbleweed Wanderers blossom at the Firebird, Thursday, February 14
On Valentine’s Day in St. Louis, a Galactic show at the Pageant offered competition for music fans’ affections, but Tea Leaf Green still drew a healthy crowd of loyal supporters and date-nighters to the Firebird.
The attire ranged from jeans and Grateful Dead t-shirts to sport jackets and sweaters and even included a few party dresses and finer hats as the diversity of the crowd reflected the diversity of sounds on stage. Whether looking to rock, jam, groove or just dance, the show was sure to deliver.
Tumbleweed Wanderers opened the evening and complemented the headliners’ style well. Based just across the bay from Tea Leaf Green’s San Francisco home, the Oakland ensemble blends the sounds of soul, folk and rock into an eclectic groove. Dressed with a disregard for uniformity, each member of the five man group offered their own flavor to the mix through an assortment of instruments. With three vocalists, each song offered its own style and opportunities for deeper harmonies.
The band’s set featured a selection of original compositions based in the roots of jam style music, and was capped off with a soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me.” Still relatively new to the scene, the band and its set provided a good foundation for concert jams and studio albums, but the confidence to experiment and explore seemed to lack at times while the solos often proved that each musician was more than capable of doing so. It would be great to see these guys again in a couple years as they will likely blossom and reach the level of groups like the headliners.
As the set break let-up, the crowd quickly began to vie for position at the front of the stage and had filled in quite densely. Josh Clark stepped to the mic and began with a simple, Simpsons inspired introduction, “We’re Tea Leaf Green and we choo-choo choose you.” By the end of the opening song and jam session, the entire crowd had gathered tightly in front of the stage, leaving all of the other sections of the venue eerily empty. The total number of fans may have been just off their pull last summer, but it felt like a full house to everyone in the pit.
Without releasing any new material, Tea Leaf Green tours extensively with a different feel and sound in each show so that even the most dedicated fan never has the same concert experience twice, even if they were to repeat songs. This show had a different feel from the last as they opened with many of their high energy tunes before exploring the other depths of their sound mid-set and building back to a few favorites at the end.
While each and every member of the band is worthy of praise and attention, it was the bands cohesion that stood out. Josh Clark and Trevor Garrod often started the songs with their individual vocal styles, but the jams highlighted everyone, even during the solos. For those unfamiliar with Tea Leaf Green, one of the most distinctive aspects of the act is the drumming duo of McMillan and Scott Rager who demonstrate the bands cohesion with every rhythm, neither ever dominating with rhythms over accents. As veterans, they’ve become a prototypical assembly of musicians and a role model to others in the scene.
Often it was the break-down segments and introductions that stood out in the set, but perhaps the most distinctive moment was a two song segment featuring an acoustic trio set-up. Reed Mathis and Josh Clark put down their electric bass and guitar for the organic alternatives, while Garrod picked up a banjo and joined the others center stage. The three played and sang huddled around a single microphone as they played “Stick to the Shadows” and “I Believe,” which pulled the slowly spreading crowd back to the front again.
They closed out the night with energetic songs that included an interpolation of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” during the transition between the final two songs of the set. The audience was treated to a final encore of two crowd favorites and didn’t have to wait long for a friendly meet and greet with the boys. It may have not been the most obvious Valentine’s Day choice, but it was safe to say that everyone got lucky with Tea Leaf Green that night.
Tumbleweed Wanderers set list:
So Long Blues
No Longer Waiting
Take It Back
Roll With the Times
Bring It on Home to Me (Sam Cooke cover)
Tea Leaf Green set list:
All Washed Up
These Two Chairs
Cops Took My Weed
Stick to the Shallows
Hanging From a Tree
For Every Lonely Lady
The Invasion-> Sex in the ’70s
Encore 1: Training a Cloud
Encore 2: Drink of Streams