Canadian three piece The Tea Party were one of the most vital and important bands of the nineties. Combining Doors/Led Zeppelin style rock with highly esoteric and unusual world music leanings; the band – consisting of singer/guitarist Jeff Martin, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Chatwood and drummer Jeff Burrows – cut quite a figure for themselves as a truly unique act at a time dominated by grunge and general whiny, self-pitying ‘complaint rock’. After six albums, the band acrimoniously split up in 2004.
Tonight was the first time the three have played together in Australia since that time.
Australia was a market that truly embraced The Tea Party in their prime. The band toured here a dozen times during their prime. Jeff Martin has gone on to buy property here, the country and its people very much becoming part of the fabric of his being over time. Many questions were on the lips of the faithful gathered tonight. Is the music still relevant and vital? Can the three of them be on the same stage and not kill each other? These and many more questions were brilliantly answered over the space of the two hour set.
Starting off with “The River Song”, the lead off track of debut 1992 release Splendour Solis, the storming renditionhad the crowd on its feet and jaws on the ground. As individual musicians, they’re brilliant in their own right. Combined, it is as if they create an entirely new element. On a live front, The Tea Party engage the listener: body, mind and soul has to be seen and felt to be believed. Wisely omitting their last two albums, The Interzone Mantras and Seven Circles, the set concentrated on the period the band were at their most compelling.
“The Bazaar”, along with “The River Song”, was a hell of a one-two punch to kick off the set, intelligent and thought provoking music, while intense on a lyrical level, The Tea Party and their music hasa wonderfully cathartic and ultimately positive quality to it.
Highlights came thick and fast during this utterly ballistic set. “Psychopomp”, off the band’s third album Transmission, has never sounded so utterly epic and engulfing as it did tonight. As brilliant as the recorded material at times is, it never comes close to capturing the visceral impact that the live show possesses. “The Messenger” and “Heaven Coming Down”, off 1999’s Triptych, benefitted remarkably on a live front, being stripped of their over-production on record.
Lead singer/guitarist Jeff Martin was in fine form. Still a highly charismatic front man, charming the crowd with banter between songs. His rich, baritone voice (thus the lazy comparison to Jim Morrison over the years) is still a powerful entity; and he is one of the finest guitarists to ever walk the earth. Switching between a variety of models and types of guitars, he proved himself to be highly versatile and inventive in his playing. The acoustic mini-set, including “The Badger” and a version of “Sun Going Down” that could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, was an absolute standout.
One utterly unique feature of The Tea Party’s live show, is the way that they can shoot off on musical tangents mid-song. Case in point: while playing a fiery version of “Save Me”, they veered off into a few bars of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah”, only to pick up the original song right from where they left off! Utter genius that you would only see a few brave and/or crazy band attempt in a live setting.
“Fire In The Head” and “Temptation” had the crowd singing along loudly and proudly with every word. “Release”, a haunting and beautiful song about the band’s stance against violence against women, was a particularly moving moment of the set. This really was a fan’s dream come true set.
There was some wonderful interplay between the members of the band that truly dispelled any rumours of ill feeling or tension among them, such as when Burrows kissed Martin on the cheek at the start of the encore. A gorgeous version of “Winter Solstice” gave way to a traditional set closer for the band, the almighty “Sister Awake”.
This was a truly transcendental and majestic return from a fantastic band, who has promised they are back together for good. Next time they are here, drop everything and see The Tea Party live. You won’t regret it.
- Neil Evans