I love modern Canadian Music. When my band was starting out years ago I was entranced by a small band from Windsor who had just released their first album. It was Splendor Solis by The Tea Party, a blend of aggressive drums, blues vocals, and an assortment of rhythm instruments such as guitars, a sitar, and a harmonium. Critics at one point disliked Jeff Martin s resemblance to Jim Morrison in both appearance and vocal work. Rock purists voiced their disgust in the use of drum machines. My father disliked the East Indian instruments and referred to them as Mujib ur sings the blues.
Needless today, my father has some issues. Five years and four albums later, the Tea Party have continued to prove that they are on the cutting edge of new music. Their adept blend of modern rock with East Indian instruments, drum machines, and Jeff Martin s spirituality on stage has created a show that is dazzling. It is their combination of these uncommon methods that makes The Tea Party the most incredible live band around today. One of the most disheartening musical trends in recent years has been the increase in drum machine use.
A short while ago there was nothing that a drum machine could doth at any monkey with one arm and one leg could not on a traditional drum kit. Yet to the dismay of many rock purists an entire genre sprung up centered entirely around the ability to push the bass drum button followed by the hi-hat button. This form of drum machine abuse is called Dance Music and for some reason has yet to die a painful death. However drum machines also allow for songs using rapid speed or unique sounds that can t be played using conventional methods. This new form of music has been dubbed jungle or trance and The Tea Party have not dismissed it.
Instead they have exhibited inthe course of the concert that they can not only add these intense beats into their existing style but that they can perform them live. Instead of programming the drum machine Jeff Burrows attached it to his existing kit and actually played it with his sticks during songs such as Babylon and Transmission. This was the first time I had ever seen anyone use drum machine in such a manner and I must admit that I was entranced by the rhythms he created. If it wasn t a concert I would have felt bad for staring at Jeff so fiercely, it was allI could do to keep my mouth closed. The Tea Party is not the first band to familiarize a North American audience with instruments and sounds from India. The Beatles and The Doors also walked this path although not quite as far.
These bands wrote songs with sitars and such in a style suitable to the instrument s heritage, then returned to their regular style with guitars again. The Tea Party however took an alternate route. Jeff Martin once said that if he were to present a Native who had never been exposed to technology with an electric guitar he would learn how to play it in a completely different manner, it wouldn t be wrong, merely different. When this theory was applied to The Tea Party s show I saw three young men playing instruments foreign to them in a manner foreign to the instruments. A sitar was never meant to be played with a distortion effect by a North American rock band, yet it wasn t wrong, merely different.
The shear number of instruments used on stage was astounding. On their second album, The Edges of Twilight, the band used thirty-one separate instruments. Jeff introduced the audience to almost two dozen of these, including a hardy gordy, a sa rod, and a harmonium. Although it was obvious that they played some of their instruments wrong, Martin and Stuart were able to create hypnotic sounds through their interpretation of their use. Once more, I was awe-struck.
One problem that many bands have today is that they don t see their performances as a show, merely an exhibition of their music. This can be best illustrated between their songs. These gaps are often painfully trudged through by offering mundane chatter and uninspired conversation to one another or simply trying to figure out what to play next. Thankfully The Tea Party have transcended this problem. When I first saw them play in 1993 at The Warehouse, Jeff Martin had an act which was very raw. He spoke between songs of the true meaning of his work, presenting himself as an enlightened man in a land of darkness.
While his speeches were entertaining, the attitude he presented them with created a distance between him and the audience. We just could not see the world as hew as attempting to present it to us. I have experienced their concerts several times since and on November 7, I once more encountered what The Tea Party could do to TheWharehouse, and how Jeff Martin now chooses to portray himself. He is still the dark, spiritual figure that I saw at previous shows and found so entertaining. However now heh as something more that allows him to step off his pedestal to show the people watching him that he too is like them. He now has something that shows him that music is not as dark or depressing as he once believed.
He now has something that lets him smile, and I smiled back. The Tea Party thrive on that which is different. Their unparalleled live show is highlighted by such unusual forces as Jeff Burrow s drum machine, Stuart Chat wood harmonium, and Jeff Martin s spirituality. While the next sound or idea they assimilate into their work is a mystery to me, I intend to see it on stage when it s ready.