Following a band closely is an endeavor that requires a type of dedication generally lost on me (this is not the only thing). Some bands make it easy. Tea Leaf Green has always been a band as much about the music as they are about the experience of it; they love to play, and they love it when their fans enjoy it. To achieve that aim requires a level of dedication that the band brims with, especially in the wake of the release of their seventh and latest album, Radio Tragedy! On June 7.
The record is, in some ways, a return to form; the production on it sounds very much like some of their earliest efforts, such as 2001’s Midnight on the Reservoir and 2003’s Living In Between, and it ends a period of transition for the band, which had been dogging them in one way or another since the departure of original bassist Ben Chambers in 2007. The intervening period saw the release of Raise Up The Tent in 2008 and Looking West just last year, but while each had highlights and both still hold up well, they had a rushed feel, as if the band were slapping together records before they could really flesh out the songs. It wasn’t that the songwriting was at fault, more that the studio efforts couldn’t capture the energy that fans expect. While trying to incorporate replacement bassist Reed Mathis and the band’s newest member, percussionist Cochrane McMillan, they hit the road hard, trying to recapture the magic of their live show without thinking too much about the studio.
Well, now that’s changed, and it couldn’t have been clearer than Saturday night’s “Floating CD Release Party” on the Boston Harbor as part of the Rock On! Concert Cruise series. The band was loose, relaxed and on fire, and shortly after bidding bon voyage to the Boston piers, they launched into Radio Tragedy! opener “All Washed Up,” with its appropriate-for-the-occasion chorus of “the ships go in, the ships go out.” That was followed by a rocking version of instrumental “Panspermic De-Evolution” that emerged as “Devil’s Pay,” with a jam in the middle that was made more spectacular by the setting sun over the skyline in the background. Set highlights “Freedom,” and new track “Arise” kept the mood carefree, and the easygoing atmosphere was demonstrated further as some members of the band filtered out into the crowd at set break.
As the second set kicked off, fans started teetering even without the helpful rock of the boat as it cruised the Atlantic, and early set highlights “Honey Bee” and “Easy To Be Your Lover” kept the playful vibes in the air. Both songs are off the new album, and both characterize its penchant for strong, sing-a-long choruses and lighter, well-worked verses, with the former showcasing guitarist Josh Clark’s goofy lyrics and sense of humor, while the latter is another example of singer and keyboardist Trevor Garrod’s chameleonic songwriting, able to slip in and out of genres and forms effortlessly. The set built in energy until cresting with “Emma Lee,” with Clark, Garrod and co. unleashing a torrent of power that echoed through the harbor and spilled into set closers “Ride Together” and “If It Wasn’t For The Money.”
Cruising back into the docks, it would have been impossible for Tea Leaf to leave without one more, and the Mathis-penned song “Devil’s Hound” was yet another fantastic decision by the band. Until the lyrics kicked in, the be-boppin’ blues rocker sounded exactly like The Allman Brothers’ Elmore James adaptation “One Way Out,” but despite the similarities it was nevertheless the perfect vibe on which to bring the crowd back to port. And with the whole band seemingly back to their swashbuckling, dedicated best, Tea Leaf Green is making it easier than ever to follow along.
– Dan Rys, MUSE Staff