Sara Gelpke

The first and last time I saw Tea Leaf Green play live was in 2006, at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California, where they were featured in a private late night set. Their presence was enigmatic, and the music felt just right; the energy in that room was amazing, listening to them play in their element. Since then, it has been difficult to get an opportunity to see them play. When I heard they were playing at Brooklyn Bowl this past weekend for two nights, the date was immediately set in stone in my calendar and my sister was brought in on the plan. This would be her first time seeing TLG play live, and I wanted to share that same feeling that I got at my first TLG show with her.

On Friday night, the crowd was ecstatic when keyboard/vocalist Trevor Garrod stood with one leg up on his amp for a harmonica solo, pouring his body into “Incandescent Devil.” The harmonica transitioned into a sweeter “Emma Lee,” and later “Constantine,” which has all the poetic quality of a Garrod-written original. My sister was dancing against the stage, enthralled by their performance before the first song was even over. Bassist Reed Mathis describes the Tea Leaf Green philosophy, “Play like you’re going to die and never play again.” Their passion to play their best at every show was clear this past weekend. Mathis’ bass emitted sounds I had never heard from a bass before. It echoed a mandolin on “Don’t Curse at the Night,” then jammed out some guitar-sounding riffs in “Forgiven.” It was hard to believe these sounds were from the same instrument, but they came through Mathis’ bass amp and Jerry Garcia’s guitar amp, which was on loan to him for the tour. They encored one song, “Morning Sun,” which jammed for a great finish to Friday night.

The Saturday show was higher on energy than Friday (too much fried chicken everybody?) as more fans crowded the room, Brooklyn brews in hand. But this show was especially awesome for one lucky fan. Since October 4, Tea Leaf Green has been asking fans for support so they can record their next album. The dedication of fans to keep TLG’s music alive was ambitiously demonstrated as fans raised $4000 beyond their goal. As a supporter of the project, a fan won the chance to write the set list, for which he selected mostly older TLG songs, but included a few tracks from 2011’s Radio Tragedy.

During “Kali-Yuga” from 2003’s Living In Between, the crowd slipped into a transcendental, psychedelic jam, while American Babies guitarist Tom Hamilton joined TLG on folk-rock jam “Ride Together.” They also played a solid cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin.” The crowd kept on dancing as newest member, drummer Constantine McMillan, played alongside veteran drummer Scott Rager. They rocked a two-minute drum duet, which could have gone much longer, but swung straight into “Baseball.” Their “solo” performance in the encore was a far better display of their talents. Seeding from “Gasaholic,” they closed the set with intros and solos, and then took their walk off stage. Tea Leaf Green returned for their encore, as Garrod gave a soul gripping performance of “Trouble.” And finally, they closed with “Deathcake.” Guitarist Josh Clark jumped into the crowd, guitar in hand, while Mathis handed the microphone stand to him. Frenzied fans danced wildly with, on and around Clark, and we were left screaming for more.

At the end of the show, my sister told me we’re going to the next High Sierra so we can catch them on the West coast, in their home element. They don’t visit the East coast enough, but Tea Leaf Green turned the Brooklyn Bowl inside out for two nights in a row. The music pulsed and kept the room alive, playing songs ranging from blues and folk to roots, rock and psychedelic jam. It was a continuous exchange of energy, love, sweat and joy between TLG and their fans. If you haven’t caught Tea Leaf Green live yet, keep your eyes on Live for Live Music for upcoming shows in the area. If you already love Tea Leaf Green, you already know the deal.

Photos by Arya Jha