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Review: Craig Eriksson.  Photos: Jason Rosewarne

On a beautiful crisp Melbourne evening I made the journey across town to St Kilda to The Palais to attend The Tea Party concert celebrating the 25th Anniversary of TRIPtych. For those of you that have never visited Melbourne, The Palais Theatre is an iconic theatre built back in 1927 and has a majestic, grand scale vibe inside this beautiful old theatre which certainly creates a perfect setting for The Tea Party concert. The Tea Party have quoted that Melbourne is like their 2nd home. They love our City and enjoy playing at The Palais, this being the 3rd time I’ve seen them play at this venue.

Before I proceed to provide you with my review of the concert, I would first like to congratulate The Tea Party on the 25th anniversary of TRIPtych and also congratulate and thank them for creating and sharing with us all some of the most wonderful, timeless world music over the past 30 plus years. I first started following The Tea Party about 25 years ago and they’ve become one of my favourite bands over the years. This was the 5th time that I’ve seen them and they certainly did not disappoint.

Arriving outside The Palais, I recognised a lot of familiar faces. A sea of die-hard fans decked out in their black Tea Party tees, black jeans and leather jackets. You could feel the excitement and exhilaration of this army of fans meeting up with their mates and heading inside this pantheon ready to worship and rock out to their favourite band, THE TEA PARTY.

For those of us that got there early, we got a taste (pardon the pun) of the Human Kebab. A DJ that was spinning some pretty cool tracks to warm up the crowd as they arrived.

Wandering out on to the dimly lit stage, The Tea Party opened  the show with The Halcyon Days (a fan favourite). A perfect opener, creating a mystical exotic atmosphere transporting fans on a musical journey around the Middle East and beyond. An incredible song and #5 on the TRIPtych album!

Jeff Martin commands the room right from the get go, with his charismatic swagger, deep rich baritone voice and he’s a virtuoso on guitar. “He’s got a ton of chops, but even more taste.”  Jeff is a multi-instrumentalist and a mighty good one at that and quite the story-teller. He is also jovial on stage and jokes about with Kenny their roadie each time Kenny brings Jeff a guitar to play.

Jeff Burrows on drums and percussion was ‘on song’ tonight and I’ve never heard the drums sound so good, strong and powerful. Chewing his gum (trademark) throughout the show and belting those skins like his life depended on it. Stuart Chatwood on bass and keyboards is a master of his craft and completes this magnificent band creating those wonderful Eastern-influence sounds.

On the subject of Eastern-influence music, the next song is The Bazaar which is from The Edges of Twilight album (1995). Silence swimming in a pool of dreams, beneath its depths the forgotten streams …. the crowd erupts, jump to their feet and chant ‘Come back to me’ throughout the song chorus.

Jeff commands the crowd to sit back down and tells philosophical stories between songs of his worldly travel adventures, experiences and discoveries whilst searching for the meaning of life. Jeff has not found the answer but says if you stop searching and think you have found the meaning of life, then you’ve got nothing left to live for. Always searching for the answer keeps you alive.

Next up was #2 from TRIPtych, Underground which included a segue into Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side which got the crowd singing along Do-do-do, do-do, do, do-do and then cutting back to finish with Underground. Mashing other great artists songs into their songs has become a trademark of The Tea Party and it really works well for them. Proof in the pudding is listening to Requiem and hearing them incorporate the Johnny Cash version of Hurt into the song. The different shades of emotion that song has is so incredibly beautiful.

Jeff commands everyone to stand up as they break into their next up-tempo psychedelic song Psychopomp from the Transmission album (1997). This song has it all! Stuart Chatwood’s keyboards absolutely shine, Jeff Martins deep baritone voice delivers a powerful storytelling journey … A frozen sun would guide you there, as shadows hide the deep despair. The crowd chanting along: “And you’ll fade away” … gave me goosebumps! We all seem to have been transported out of the Palais out into the stratosphere. Such a powerful song!

Time for the crowd to land and sit back in their seats. Now only Jeff Martin remains on stage and starts playing acoustic guitar and singing a cover of Keane’s song: Somewhere Only We Know. Sounds absolutely beautiful with his deep baritone voice and then Chatwood and Burrows wander back on stage as they blend into #6 from TRIPtych, The Messenger. This is a Daniel Lanois cover and one of my favourite tracks from the TRIPtych album. The band makes this song their own and I’m told that Daniel once told Jeff Martin he prefers their version of the song rather than his own original version. Now there’s a huge compliment!

We aren’t even half way through the show yet and the evening has already been truly wonderful. Gone is the next song and #12 from TRIPtych. A beautiful song arrangement which had wonderful artistic cinematic images displayed behind the band throughout the song creating a sense of loss and sadness. “Helpless in these passions of life, now strife won’t let me go.”

These Living Arms (#10 from TRIPtych) a gentle ballad that apparently hasn’t been played by The Tea Party for 20 years.

Crowd favourite Save Me from Splendor Solis (1993) was next with Jeff Martin commencing the song playing his guitar with a bow (Jimmy Page style). The die-hard crowd knew the intro and started rockin out and singing so loud that I felt I was in a gospel church in Harlem singing with the choir. No words can truly describe how beautiful this moment was in this sea of bliss. Joyous, Love, Angelic, Inspirational. Again they blended #7 from TRIPtych Samsara into Save Me making for a wonderful song arrangement. As I gazed around the theatre, the beaming look on punters faces painted a thousand words. The crowd had just been part of something incredibly special.

Jeff Martin then has a chat with the crowd about how he dislikes making music videos for their songs. A part of their music he dislikes and finds challenging. Whilst in the middle of making a music video, Jeff finds himself sitting around bored in his trailer. He starts fiddling around on his new 12-string Rickenbacker and came up with Heavens Coming Down within about 5-minutes. Excited and enthused, he rushes to tell Chatwood and Burrows he thinks he’s just written their #1 hit and they laugh if it off.

Heaven Coming Down is #4 from TRIPtych and went on to become their only #1 hit in Canada. Once again they did a segue blending a cover of U2’s With or Without You into the song. The crowd was up on their feet again and back in the Harlem choir, singing with gusto raising the roof of The Palais. I’m sure we were all shuffling our feet like a scene out of Sister Act.

Temptation from Transmission (1997) was next. A heavier mystical song which had the crowd on their feet rocking out (some head banging) and chanting “Temptation” throughout the song. The tightness in the way this band plays is displayed here and it’s so noticeable that the 3 guys have a lot of respect and love for each other and have been lifetime friends and played together for a long time. The evening was coming to an end as the band left the stage thanking everyone for coming.

They came back out for an Encore with Winter Solstice from Splendor Solis. Almost a celtic-like jig which got the crowd clapping and stomping along. There was an old Irish guy behind us that I swear was about 80-years young doing an Irish jig in the aisle. That’s the magic and joy of music. It makes you feel alive and keeps you young!

The evening concluded with Sister Awake from The Edges of Twilight (1995). This was the song that initially introduced me to The Tea Party all those years back and still remains fondly as one of my favourite songs of theirs. This song was extended with them once again blending not one, but two covers into this finale. The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ and David Bowie ‘Heroes’. It doesn’t get better than this.

By this stage, the crowd is in total awe and what an epic finish to an incredible evening leaving you with a full, content tummy full of deliciousness, but still craving more of this smorgasbord of Moroccan-roll. Fans can never get enough of this incredible band.

We got a good taste of TRIPtych tonight hearing 7 songs from this incredible album.

A special thank you to The Tea Party for inviting Jason Rosewarne (Australian Musician Photographer) and myself backstage after the show for a meet and greet, drink and chat. Dreams can come true!  Us fans can’t wait to see you again when you come back to our shores hopefully sooner rather than later next time.

In my recent interview for Australian Musician with Jeff Martin, he mentioned they had a few new songs in the mix and it sounds like they may be working towards a new album. For the love of music, stay tuned and rock on!

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