Words by Brian Hoey
Chicago, Il— Digging deep into their catalog for the opening number, Tea Leaf Green kicked off Friday night’s show in spectacular fashion, giving a succinct but impassioned version of “Vote on Tuesday” which swirled with a mad, foot-stomping fury. Proceeding from there into a particularly dark and brooding “I’ve Got A Truck,” which featured sharp and grimy slide work by guitarist Josh Clark. Their opening two songs (both barely played in 2011) combined nicely to set the mood for the evening: nothing too long-winded, nothing too out-there, just one of today’s best jam-bands playing unrelentingly at the top of their game.
With the tone of the evening established, Clark shredded through a guitar solo, sounding like a cleaned up Jimmy Page, that led into a version of “You’re My Star” (off their latest studio effort, Radio Tragedy!), propelled by duel drummers Scott Rager and Chochrane McMillan’s combined bombastic battering. A few tracks later, the group would round out their first set with an acid-drenched medley of “Out In The Woods” (originally by Leon Russell), “Germinating Seed,” and “Gasaholic.” “Germinating Seed,” in particular found Trevor Garrod [keyboards/vox] pounding out a deliberate but trippy organ solo, which stood out as one the night’s best. All three featured bassist Reed Mathis playing like a flaming hot Rock ’n’ Roll Jaco Pastorious, chopping out some of his some of his jazziest and most impressive solos since his tenure with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The set rounded itself out with “Gasaholic” working its way into a feverishly uptempo shout that seemed to get the whole crowd dancing with a Touch of the Holy Spirit.
Their second set started off in equally impressive fashion, opening with a piano interlude that led into “Dreaming Without Sleeping,” and moving thereafter into a smokin’ version of “One Reason.” Now I’ve never been one to complain about live performances deviating too much from familiar recording, but I’ll admit that I’ve been disappointed by versions of “One Reason” in the past, whose guitar solos didn’t match what I consider to be the utter perfection of the solo on Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. That was the furthest thing from an issue. Clark’s guitar work attained the same level of soaring transcendental shred. With Clark on such an incredible roll, the band moved into the otherwise slow and plodding “Devil’s Pay” with new found gusto. If “Gasaholic” got the crowd moving with the Holy Spirit, “Devil’s Pay” got them moving for just the opposite reason, with devilishly sharp licks pouring out at every turn. In fact, it came out so maniacally that when they transitioned from that into “Innocence” it felt almost like an apology, a plea for rock and roll deliverance. The remainder of the second set featured a take on “Honeymooners” that featured a particularly grimy breakdown, leading to a tandem drum solo that found Cochrane and Rager playing like a coarser Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (of Allman Brothers fame), followed by a particularly upbeat “Drink of Streams”, a raucous “Criminal Intent” (which found Reed quoting Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” as they segued into “Relax”), and a particularly footstomping version of “Cops Took My Weed,” which Clark assured everyone was a true story, before culminating with “All Washed Up.”
So far, this had been as impressive a Tea Leaf show as I’d ever seen. After all was said and done, though, what really defined the concert for me was the encore. When Trevor chirped out the first note of “Nothing Changes,” my mind went back to almost exactly a year ago, to Tea Leaf Green’s encore beginning the same way the last time they played at Lincoln Hall. Some things, I thought, in time with Trevor’s soft vocals, never change. The two concerts’ setlists were about fifty percent identical, and the crowd and the atmosphere were largely unchanged. I braced myself to hear them shift into “Honey Bee” like they did the year before, and to go home feeling a twinge of disappointed déjà vu. But as ‘Nothing Changes’ reached its crescendo, Reed’s bass work picked back up, and the band cascaded into ‘Looking West’. As the band tore through it, I realized that some things really don’t change, but that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t keep moving forward. In the well over a decade Tea Leaf Green has been around, they’ve never stopped pushing themselves forward, and they’ve never stopped going out there, year after year (even through the dismal Chicago winter). Hopefully some things will never change.
Set 1 – Vote on Tuesday, I’ve Got A Truck, You’re My Star, Easy To Be Your Lover, Living Honestly, Training A Cloud, Out In The Woods (Leon Russell) > Germinating Seed > Gasaholic.
Set 2 – Dreaming Without Sleeping, One Reason, Devil’s Pay> Innocence, Honeymooners > Drink of Streams, Criminal Intent > Relax, Cops Took My Weed, All Washed Up.
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