Tea Leaf Green & The Stringdusters bring good music to Athens


Tea Leaf Green & The Infamous Stringdusters
Georgia Theatre
Athens, GA
March 23, 2012



On a recent Friday night, an improbable dually billed gig descended upon the historic Georgia Theatre when the young and constantly vertical moving bluegrass band, The Infamous Stringdusters, joined forces with Tea Leaf Green, the veteran jam quintet that hails from San Francisco.

Of course placing either of these bands in a box would be doing so at one’s own peril.

Example: Though The Infamous Stringdusters are an absolutely pure “string band,” they have toured extensively with the worldly music making Toubab Krewe (occasionally performing under the moniker of Infamous Krewe), they host a festival (The Festy) that had Brett Dennen as a headliner on one night last year and their recent release, Silver Sky, was produced by Billy Hume, a gentleman who is primarily recognized for his work with hip-hop artists like Nas and Ludacris.

Taking all of this into consideration, the bill wasn’t all that surprising after all and simply put, it just meant that fans in attendance would get two different flavors and quite a bit more bang for their buck.

On top of all this, both bands were en route to Suwannee Springfest, so hooking up on the way was a way to maximize the long distance trip. Plus, in a rather smooth marketing move on both bands’ parts, since both outfits make great music and therefore,  they have fans who enjoy the same, so the potential for crossover was high.

Starting promptly when the ticket stub said they would, The Infamous Stringdusters took the stage to a sparsely filled house, but that would soon change as the event had sold out during the day.

The opener, “Likes,” was a great way to start off the show and very congruent to the warm-up feeling in the theatre at the time.

Next, the Stringdusters launched into a song from their brand new album entitled “Rockets.” The aforementioned new album was released March 13 and receives its name from this lyrical masterpiece. With more people making their way into the Theatre and with the band now fully in stride, the quintet ramped up the intensity, pushing the pedal to the floor and refusing to relent until their stage time had passed.

Exemplifying what makes their sound so sonically pleasing, “Hiker” showcased the way in which division of parts is driven by equality in this band, with solos from the Andy Hall, Chris Pandolfi and Jeremy Garrett on Dobro, banjo and fiddle respectively.

It is this “lack of a star” that makes the Stringdusters shine as a collective unit. Separating them from an overwhelming majority of their peers, the members of this band are equally talented, but as opposed to getting in each others’ way, they have managed to master the art to complement each other’s play with a level of musical communication that is anticipatory in nature and never seems forced.

After “Hiker” closed with an ethereal jam and the band drove through an excellent version of  Danny Barnes’ “Get It While You Can,” the most ideally placed offering of “Steam Powered Aereoplane” was next. The band delivered a concise and well executed serving the legendary John Hartford tune.

Musicianship aside, each “Stringduster” can sing as well and when they sing in quintuple harmony, it can only be described as beautiful.

Best evidenced in Athens with “Like I Do,” the vocal work was stellar as was the bass work of Travis Book who, unlike some bassists within the bluegrass genre, never gets lost in the mix.  At

By this time, the crowd had become swollen and with “Sunny Side,” the newest member of the band, guitarist Andy Falco, was given a chance to show his chops, driving the Athens crowd into a frenzy with his fever pitched tone.

The Stringdusters’ joy for making music and entertaining a crowd was as evident as ever on this night. Judging from the smiles on the room’s faces, their mission was accomplished and though this was a co-billed evening, it was abundantly clear that it will not be long before the band is able to wander into Athens and it be their night, all unto themselves.

In between sets, in taking a moment to explore the recently restored Georgia Theatre, it was safe to say that the Theatre is not just back, but that it is supremely improved. There has been some criticism of the seating limitations in the balcony, but the sightlines are breathtaking. To say that the live music crowd at large — but particularly in the Southeast —  is lucky to have the Theatre back would be an enormous understatement.

Bands bring their “A” game within the walls that have spawned legendary careers and being that this was both the Stringdusters and Tea Leaf Green’s first show at the famed spot since the fire, it was definitely going to be interesting to see what Scott Rager (drums, percussion), Josh Clark (guitar, vocals), Trevor Garrod (keys, vocals), Reed Mathis (bass, vocals) and Cochrane McMillan (drums) brought to the stage.

Golden Gate city natives Tea Leaf Green formed in 1996 and have released eight studio and six live albums since then. The bands studio albums seem to transition from highly improvisational at the beginning to more and more structured. Ironically, their newest album Radio Tragedy is the most structured and radio ready to date, characterized by some as “power pop.”

TLG chose to open the night with “Germinatin’ Seed,” a number that harkens back to the earlier days of TLG with heavy improvisation and far less focus on structured delivery and less structure than newer numbers leave room for. The Bernie Worrell-like organ solo delivered by Trevor Garrod and slick fast guitar solo by Josh Clark in the succinct“Seed” really hit the spot and got the crowd prepared for what was about to take place.

Now prepared, the crowd nearly exploded as TLG went into a song that accomplishes being both bluesy and spacey, “The Devil’s Pay.”

While “Devil’s Pay” featured a lengthy improvisational jam in the middle the band had no trouble going to the edge and then bringing it back home relatively safely without getting lost. The jams had structure in the journey, but of equal importance, also destination. Unfortunately this is indirect contrast to many in the genre whose jams have plenty of liftoff and experimentation but no clear direction or place to land.

The fiery guitar work from Clark continued through “Cottonwood Tree” and — with his slide — into “Georgie P” behind the thumping bass line from Reed Mathis.

“All Washed Up” is a creatively different song from the new album with almost spoken word vocals and a real nebulous feel, like a theme dong of a dark carnival, that could potentially be classified as a pop punk song if classifying things is your bag.

Like the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic, Tea Leaf Green features dual drummers, Scott Rager and Chochrane McMillan, and during “Let Us Go” they got a chance to demonstrate that they aren’t just back there to play the same tempo, efficiently utilizing all of the many tools attheir percussive disposal.

The encore consisted of the psychedelic infused “Truck Stop Sally” and the bluesy “The Garden III.” With a solid rhythm section and Josh Clark’s incendiary guitar work coupled with Trevor Garrod’s vocals and keys, Tea Leaf Green left the building standing right where they came in… on solid ground. In a day and age when Adele was credited with “saving the recording industry,” TLG’s critique of radio music rings true. The fact that they have been hard at what they are doing and feeding their families, paying their bills and the like for nearly 16 years is proof enough that they know what they are doing. But if not, the folks at the Georgia Theatre needed no persuasion after a blisteringly grand set from a group that has yet to stop innovating.

With the closing notes, fans went their separate ways, having experienced two very diverse sounds over the course of one evening in a great venue. It can safely be said that fans were gained on both sides of the aisle because what was played was good honest music. After all, isn’t that the most important genre anyway?


Tea Leaf Green Setlist


Germinatin’ Seed > The Devil’s Pay, Cottonwood Tree, Georgie P, All Washed Up, I’ve Been Seeking, Criminal Intent, Oklahoma Home > Jezebel, Fallen Angel, Sleep Paralysis, Without A Broom > Warmup > Vote on Tuesday, Let Us Go > Dual Drum Solo > Let Us Go, My Bastard Brother
Encore: Truck Stop Sally > The Garden (Part III)


Infamous Stringdusters Setlist


Likes, Rockets, Hiker, Get It While You Can (Danny Barnes), Home, Steam Powered Aereoplane (John Hartford), Like I Do, Walking on the Moon (The Police), No More To Leave You Behind, Fork in the Road


Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Ian Rawn

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