A little over a year after touring for the 20th anniversary of their classic The Edges of Twilight, veteran Canadian rockers The Tea Party offered the same treatment to their follow up Transmission. It was an album that at the time shocked their fans, taking their middle eastern influence blues rock and running it through an industrial meat grinder. They took their Led Zeppelin influences and smashed them into a Nine Inch Nails fetish. The result was unexpected but gave the band a whole new dimension.
To warm us up, Torontonians The Road Heavy opened the evening, a band that follows the recent trend of bands sounding like a tribute to the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack. Although they suffer from an acute case of genericism, with riffs and lyrics that come out of the handbook on how to be a southern rock band, they had great energy and stage presence. A fun way to start off an evening of brooding rock.
At this point, I’d like to point out that this was my 59th Tea Party concert, yet seeing this album live was still a fresh new experience. It was actually the first time I got to hear them play “Babylon” live. The song was a huge hit for them, but it’s electro infused elements make it a challenge to play live. It was pulled off with success, but I could see why it was left off the setlist for many years,requiring a little more backtrack than these musicians are probably comfortable using.
A band that often likes to be different, they bucked the trend of full album tours and actually played the album out of sequence. “Psychopomp” remains as haunting as it was 20 years ago. It is, as it’s namesake, a crushing blend of beauty and darkness, a tragic tour de force. Guitarist/vocalist Jeff Martin dedicated “Release” to the women in the crowd, in apologies for the misogyny happening in politics south of the border.
Martin explained that this was a special night, since Transmission had been born in and very much inspired by the city of Montreal, written in his days brooding about the old port.
The true treat of these tours though lies in hearing tracks that were lost in the setlist over the years. Rockers like “Army Ants,” slower tracks like “Emerald’ and the esoteric like title track “Transmission” are given new life. But that’s what this band does, they reinvent their songs over and over. That’s makes seeing them 59 times still exciting. There’s always a new solo, a new transition, a new song mixed into the middle. It leaves you wondering how each song might have evolved. “Gyroscope” was a perfect example. It became a Led Zeppelin tribute, with Jimmy Page riffs spliced seamlessly throughout. It was a real trip.
They closed the set with the song that started the album, “Temptation.” All said and done, it took them close to an hour and half to play a 50 minute album, which fans would expect no from the band.
With another set classic material and two encores, the band left the stage 3 hours after they stepped on it. Close to midninght on a weeknight, the crowd was still packed and demanding more. The band was happy to oblige, in this building they affectionately dub “the temple of The Tea Party,” they played an extra encore no other city got, closing with the song that started the band, “The River.” Some may believe rock n’ roll is dead, but no one here believed it. If it is, this was a seance to resurrect it.
Review – Richard Brunette
Photos – Jason Hughes