A spattering of Vancouver rain clatters against the concrete of Granville Street. A drumbeat without rhythm. Heavy. Is the dampness that pulls at you the rain? Or is there something else clawing at your soul? Something in the air tonight?
Trading on a legacy of sex, drugs, and black magic, The Tea Party crave a darker part of your soul. Especially Transmission (1997). Transmission is a gate, the music the path, and tonight? Tonight, The Tea Party will be our guide.
In 1997 three kids from Windsor resolved to produce “the darkest rock and roll album Canada had ever heard.” At the time, the Canadian charts were dominated by imports like the Spice Girls, No Doubt, The Backstreet Boys, and Pop Compilation Albums. For every the Tragically Hip or Our Lady Peace, there was a Sarah McLachlan or Celine Dion.
Often called “Moroccan Roll”, The Tea Party draw on sounds and instruments from across the globe, with a fixation on Middle-Eastern Mysticism and Music. Hearing live the music of my childhood, of my heroes, fulfills. Great musicians performing their greatest works out weighs the gimmicked nature of anniversary tours. Jeff Martin plays the guitar like an Olympic athlete. While a painting ages in his attic, he pulls out a bow and makes his strings sing. Jeff Burrows gives the drums an animalistic enthusiasm. Stuart Chatwood applies bass and keyboard, adding texture on texture, painting in sound.
This album offers a snapshot into the 90s that I never really knew personally. My older brother came of age during the heyday of Nirvana and the Wu-tang Clan while I was still playing Charlotte Diamond on repeat. That great musical revolution, heard through hollow walls as my brother learned long solos and discovered new sounds. I missed it. Too young. Too shy. It wasn’t until one hot summer in 1999, the world on pause, awaiting the new millennium, bored in the basement, I watched MTV countdown the top 20 videos of the week. Between undulating pop stars and incoherent rappers lay something beautiful: “Heaven Coming Down” from the album Triptych (1999) pulled me into The Tea Party’s world.
With the singular obsession of a pre-teen girl, I devoured their back catalogue as best I could. A copy of Splendor Solis (1993) from the back of an HMV. The Edges of Twilight (1995) borrowed from my brother. And, finally, Transmission, from a dusty corner of an A&B Sound. Looking for a way to understand the world, I stumbled into a different kind of understanding. That magic still lingered on the edges of the world. If only your eyes were open you could see it all.
If listening to Transmission is like finding a stack of Picasso sketches tucked in the back of the garage, hearing it live is a gallery exhibition. A sea of people, falling back on who they grew from. Aging rockers, former goth kids, angry angsty teens, and lost souls. “Army Ants”, pulsing, sends a wave across the crowd. “Psychopomp”, dragging the enraptured souls to the underworld and back again. “Babylon”, walking a tightrope between sex and violence until finally- “Release”…
“Release” resonates with me. Reminds me of why I’m here, of the journey the last few years have been. Of all I’ve lost and gained. Of missed chances and pain… I cry. There is a sincerity to it. A beauty. Even Martin takes a pause. To thank us, all of us, for creating such a moment. The moment passes – back into “Temptation” we go.
An intermission only to pull us back into Martin’s impossible world. Speaking openly of their heroes, the band slipped covers into the middle of their own work. U2’s classic “With or Without You” (1987) appeared in “Heaven Coming Down” (1999). Parts of “Under Pressure” (1982 Queen, David Bowie) kept appearing. The 20-minute version of “Sister Awake” included “Paint it Black” (1966, The Rolling Stones) as well as their encore.
So, here we are, 20 years later, do we still need an album like Transmission? What does an album mean in an age where Artists live and die download by download?
I think we’ve forgotten the importance of telling a good story. The journey sacrificed on the altar of destination. Music is a product. Artists are commodities. Instead of autotuned perfection, give me skill. Give me the raw emotion and passion of a psychopomp.
The next city to host the Tea Party tent will be The Roxy in Los Angeles, CA on Saturday, April 8th. After that they’re going to the Star Events Centre in Sydney, NSW, on Friday, April 21st. If you can’t make either of those dates, you can click here to see the rest of the tour, or click here to see their incredible selection of music.