I Mother Earth and The Tea Party at Grey Eagle

Jeremy and I have talked about music pretty much as long as I’ve know him. As a former member of a rock band, Jeremy knows a lot, and his passion for music (and especially equipment) always reminds me of how much I truly know.

I’ve seen a lot of concerts with him over the years: Five Alarm Funk, John Fogerty, The Arkells, Heart, Styx, Big Sugar, and several times, The Tragically Hip. (I’m pretty sure I’m missing a couple others, too.) You might notice a theme with this list – primarily good, strong rock and roll. You might also notice that some of these aren’t considered “mainstream” and don’t get a lot of airplay except on classic rock stations.

A few years ago, Styx was a “70s” band for me and Heart was something my cousin liked. And I won’t lie, that concert (Heart opened for Styx) was easily one of the best concerts I’ve seen. As a result, I’ve come to trust his judgement, even if it’s not a band I like … or even a band I dislike.

Way back in the 90s, my friend Stuart referred to I Mother Earth interchangeably with another Canadian band, Our Lady Peace, as “Our Mother Peace” because they basically sounded the same (to us, anyway) and we could never remember which band did which song on the radio (thank you, CanCon). The Tea Party didn’t have much better a reputation, as their lead singer seemed like he as trying too hard to be Jim Morrison.

This was the preconception I carried until tonight, broken because I put my trust in Jeremy that this would be a great concert.

The Grey Eagle is not the largest space in town. Its event hall is modest, able to seat a couple of thousand people. It’s not the bowl stadiums that these bands could once fill ages ago at the height of their popularity, though consummate professionals know what it is to have different venues of different sizes, and play to those rooms. Both of these bands have been around long enough to know.

I Mother Earth was on first, and began with a low rumble and a light show, before the band members came on. IME’s lineup has changed over the years, though has kept the percussionist (they have a drummer and a percussionist with bongos, shakers, a cymbal or two, and a couple of deep drums), the guitarist, and of course, the lead singer, Edwin, who was the last to take the stage, giving the rest of the band (including a keyboardist and bassist) time to jam.

The sound was not tweaked for IME. I had difficulties with some of the blending and the ranges weren’t well-set, so there was distortion and notes weren’t clear. I could barely hear Edwin, the singer. I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but it does seem very unfair in this modern world of all-digital boards where a single button could alter the sound characteristics between two bands.

The “Our Mother Peace” legacy lingered as I couldn’t remember a single IME song, though Jeremy seemed to know their catalog well. The audience certainly knew the songs, and they were pressed as close to the front as you could get with seating being in the way. Security had been chasing folks back to their seats right until Edwin pretty much demanded everyone stand up.

Where I do have to give IME extensive credit is that, as a band, they can play. Songs that might have been 3 minutes on the radio were blown out to ten minutes of jamming, with heavy influences of Pink Floyd and Santana. Recognize a song or not, it didn’t matter, the music and the performances were still brilliant.

There was no encore for IME, but that’s the curse of the opening band. They wrapped, bowed goodbye, and the stagehands quickly shuffled equipment off, with a different set of hands moving on The Tea Party’s.

Earplugs when in for TTP. And that’s mostly because I didn’t want to have ringing in my ears all day tomorrow. And I was right to do so.

Grey Eagle has probably the best sound system in Calgary, rivalled (I think) by the Southern Alberta Jubilee (“The Jube”, which is where we saw Styx). And that was clear through the clothes-vibrating rumble as the three (original and still-playing) band members walked out.

Two of the three – Stuart and Jeff the drummer – looked their age. (Stuart, in particular, had a particularly fetching hat.) Jeff the guitarist and lead singer, however, looked to have not aged a day, still sporting the dark sunglasses and coat famous from their promo material in the 90s. (Jeff’s the one who seemed to channel Jim Morrison.) They got through their opening before he stopped, and said: “Fuck, hang on, I can’t see a thing” and lost the shades and his jacket, no doubt a nod to audience expectations and their desire to just play.

Jeff’s a strong front-man, and plays off the media-reinforced ego. The other two are generally much more reserved, Stuart (bass and keyboards, though all of them are multi-instrumental) in particular. In the breaks, he played with the audience, set up lines for other songs, made fun of himself. It was wholly entertaining.

Although TTP has been releasing albums since the mid-90s, their newer material hasn’t been heard much, if ever, on the radio. And while I’m sure they know that, there’s no indication of it when they play, because they just played. They offered a couple of their hit songs – “The Bazaar”, “Temptation”, and “Heaven Coming Down”, to name the ones I recognized – but they threw in songs they clearly loved, too: they played the opening of The Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon”, most of U2’s “With Or Without You” wedged in the middle of one of their own tunes, The Rolling Stone’s “Paint It Black”, and David Bowie’s “Heroes”.

Although their first set seemed short, their encore packed in another batch of songs before they wrapped up.

I have to say that, now, if someone said that The Tea Party were playing, especially in a small venue, I’d go without blinking. Easily one of the best three person bands I’ve ever seen, anywhere, and it’s almost criminal that we Canadians haven’t treated them with more passion. Much of the attitude and ego that haunts them is media-induced – not just by the media, but also by the record labels, I should add – and it’s unfair. They are brilliant to watch, extremely fun to hear, and there’s no mistaking their sheer love of rock.

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