Tea Leaf Green 2.9.13

The Bluebird Theater
Denver, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel

I had not heard of the Tumbleweed Wanderers until I arrived at the show. This Oakland based band started with a sound that matched their name... A rock band with a breezy, dusty, rambling spirit. Their country-kissed rock could have been on the soundtrack to the Big Lebowski, an album featuring artists such as Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Kenny Rogers, Jagger and Richards, John Fogerty, and more. Suddenly a wash of liquid echoes and reverb enveloped the sound, and the band delved into a vintage late '60s sound reminiscent of Syd Barrett's time with Pink Floyd. The rest of their set triggered memories of Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the Beatles as they played with an authentic British rock tone. It's almost as if Tumbleweed Wanderers had come from a time gone by, to bring back a small piece of those sounds that changed the world.

By the time Tea Leaf Green took the stage, the theater was full of fans, some dressed in 1980's hair metal regalia, wielding inflatable guitars. The crowd energy was palpable as I heard the guy behind me say, "It's time to get weird." As the show got under way, I was immediately taken back by Reed Mathis's bass. His playing was essentially like a second lead guitar, yet he still hit the bottom and kept the grooves moving. Later in the show, he used his bass to create what I could only describe as whale calls. It sounded like a violin trying to communicate with a beluga. Just simply cool. He used that technique at various points through the show, sometimes to create atmosphere, and other times to supplement his dynamic bass-lines. I've never seen anyone play the bass like Reed did... He is a truly unique talent. It helped that he was surrounded by a great group of musicians as well. The tandem drumming of Cochrane McMillan and Scott Rager dropped unified rhythms you could use to set your clock. Their beats were tighter than Russia's synchronized swim team, and they maintained the consistency required with a bassist like Mathis. Trevor Garrod's keys and vocals added to the rich tapestry of sounds and worked well in focal and supporting roles. His vocals were the most memorable of the night, though all the guys could sing.

Last but not least, Josh Clark was outrageous. His furious fingers dominated his guitar throughout the show, and shifted between interesting accompaniment and aggressive solo work. His playing touched on elements of southern rock, hair metal, island grooves, funk, and jazz. It reminded me of Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey's McGee at times when he would let loose with his rapid-thrash solos. Clark was a showman... From windmills to "O" faces, his stage presence was almost as intense as his playing. They had an original sound, but it had the commercial appeal of a band like Wilco, but with an improvisational depth beyond their commercial competition. At one point, the key player grabbed a banjo and the guys gathered around a single mic to play acoustic instruments. They sang into a single mic also and fused the traditional bluegrass approach with a campfire vibe before inviting Tumbleweed Wanderers to join them on a singalong version of U2's "With or Without You." Other notable covers, "End of the World as We Know It" by REM and Europe's "The Final Countdown" kept the crowd smiling as Tea Leaf Green delivered knock-out punch after knock-out punch of thrilling music. I've seen TLG before as openers or at festival sets, but this was my first show where they headlined. Wow. I've been missing out. How about you?

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