20 years ago I was a student at Canadore College in North Bay. We had this bar, called The Wall. It was a small venue but in its 20 year existence hosted some of the finest musicians Canada has ever produced. It was also where I was first introduced to Jeff Martin and The Tea Party as they rolled across the country promoting their new album Transmission.
Little did I know then that 20 years later I’d be sitting in the theatre at another College, this time Algonquin College, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Transmission with Jeff Martin and The Tea Party as the tour passed through Ottawa.
Transmission has always been my favourite album by The Tea Party and is possibly one of the greatest rock albums ever made and the best way to listen to the album is live and last night was no different.
Toronto based, The Road Heavy, kicked off the night and wasted no time pumping up the packed theatre. The Road Heavy formed in 2014 and quickly made a name for themselves as a band to watch. The powerhouse vocals of Pat James along with the incredible voice of Jules Cardoso turned the dial all the way to rock and that’s where it was left for the remainder of the night. We’ll be watching these guys, who knows maybe 20 years down the road we’ll be celebrating their 20th Anniversary. Check out the Road Heavy next time they’re near you. For more information visit them online at www.theroadheavy.com
The Tea Party played two sets, each of which lasted about an hour. From the opening notes of “Psychopomp” all the way through the incredibly powerful, and relevant, “Temptation” the first set ended where most shows we cover would have ended but last night The Tea Party was just getting warmed up. Martin told the crowd before he left the stage that they were going to take a 20-25 minute break and then they were coming back to tear shit up.
One thing that really struck me last night, I don’t know if being a music writer has made me pay closer attention to the details over the years or why I didn’t notice it before, was the incredible lyrics that go with these songs. Take “Temptation”, for example, the verse: “We exist in a world Where the fear of illusion is real And we cling to the past To deny and confuse the ideal Once inside we conceive and Believe in a God we can’t feel”. This song was written about 21 years ago but remains relevant today.
After the break the band returned to the stage jumping ahead, a bit, to 2004’s Seven Circles. Martin walked out onto the stage and asked the seated crowd “why aren’t you standing?” before immediately diving full on into “Writing’s On the Wall”. If hard and heavy is what Martin meant when he said they were going to tear shit up in their second set he definitely wasn’t lying.
I also never noticed the heavy influences from Led Zeppelin and Bowie in the Tea Party’s music, something Martin mentioned on more than one occasion. The band paid tribute to some of the talent that was lost in 2016 including a shout out to George Michael. Martin said “his music wasn’t my thing but he had a lot of talent”. One loss in particular that, Martin said, inspired their music so much, that they likely wouldn’t exist as a band had it not been for his influence, was David Bowie. Martin dedicated “Aftermath” to Bowie’s memory.
As the second set wound down they jumped to 1999’s Triptych for “Heaven’s Coming Down” before wrapping up the show with “Sister Awake” infused with Rolling Stones “Painted Black” and an incredible performance on the drums by Jeff Burrows.
All said and done the last note sounded shortly after 11:30, far longer than most shows I’ve seen in that venue or many other, non-bar, venues not that anyone in the sold out Algonquin Commons Theatre minded one bit. To say they got their money’s worth is an understatement.
If history repeats itself The Tea Party has enough juice left in the tank for a few more decades of tours. With 8 albums to date that leaves 4 more albums that can be followed up with “20 years of” tours. I can say, without question, I’ll be ready and willing to do it all again in a couple of years with 20 Years of Triptych…something tells me I’m not alone.
For 2017 the 20 Years of Transmission tour, or #TX20 for short, moves on to Quebec for a couple of shows before returning to Toronto for two nights at the Danforth Music Hall after which they’ll head to western Canada where they’ll wrap up their Canadian dates. The tour will head south of the border for shows in Washington, Oregon and California in April before wrapping up in Australia for a show with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Many of these shows are close to, if not already, sold out so if you want to catch this tour you’ll want to get your tickets sooner than later. For full tour details and news visit www.teaparty.com.
Before closing out the show Martin left the crowd with a little teaser…could TX20 be making a return to Ottawa this summer for a show at RBC Bluesfest? Although I find it unlikely I can’t rule it out. The band had a very successful turnout for the 20th Anniversary of Edges of Twilight a few summer’s ago and based on the crowd reaction last night there’s no doubt they’d come out in droves to catch Martin and the boys again in July. I’d watch for that announcement after their Ontario dates are finished in a couple of weeks, if it comes at all.