A Jam Sandwich

February 13th, 2012

Tea Leaf Green – The Bowery Ballroom – February 10, 2012

Playing the first of two area shows at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night, San Francisco’s Tea Leaf Green seemed to be operating at double strength. Opening the show with “Soldiers of Kentucky,” they quickly raced out to the first of what would be countless high-quality jams over the course of two sets. Josh Clark’s guitar, Reid Mathis’s bass and Trevor Garrod’s keys seemed to overlap and resonate with one another, confusing the source of each sound but overpowering the crowd and compelling them to keep up. Behind the front three, two drummers propelled the band like a souped-up dragster with dual exhaust itching to go.

As Tea Leaf Green slalomed through the entire catalog, all five musicians played to an impressive level. Clark’s happy-go-lucky guitar traveled along the plane defined by Keith Richards, Dickey Betts and Eddie Van Halen, thoughtfully building solos within the songs from which they came and then exploding into a fury of axe-shredding delight. While Mathis’s played a perfect foil, often picking like a guitar and employing octave pedals to generate extraterrestrial sounds. The bassline in “Out in the Woods” bounced groovily between the two drummers. And every fourth song seemed to be a well-constructed instrumental, each feeling like three separate movements of pure rock and roll, body moving funk and impossible prog.

After 70 nonstop minutes, the band took a break before picking up right where they left off with a second set that was more of the same, if not for a scaled-down, more determined audience. “Fallen Angel” was representative: great songwriting with a mix of twang and groove that folded midway like musical origami into a darker, mysterious thing for a healthy stretch before righting itself back into its original form. This was late-night-infomercial music, bringing delight after delight but constantly screaming “but wait … there’s more!” —A. Stein