The Real and Imaginary of The Tea Party Live

With The Tea Party back together and touring again, and after seeing three live shows since last year’s reunion, I thought I’d set down some collected thoughts on the band’s catalogue and live performances. Naturally, this is all subjective, but I’ve provided links to the studio versions of the songs I mention, so you can form your own opinion if you like.

Splendor Solis

The original studio album containing many of the band’s tracks from the early days playing around Windsor (and the indie eponymous album), Splendor Solis still features strongly in live shows. Like on the album, The River is a great show opener. Save Me showcases Jeff Martin with the bow, and is a great live track besides. Sun Going Down is impossible to properly appreciate without hearing it live. The instrumental Winter Solstice often accompanies Sister Awake in an encore. In the early days I remember hearing A Certain Slant of Light a lot, but it’s been a long time.

Personally, I’d say there isn’t a single track on this album that wouldn’t sound great live. There is, however, a certain thread passing through Midsummer Day, Winter Solstice, and the last five tracks of the album that I imagine would sound really cool all strung together live. The riffs in Haze on the Hills prove it. In particular, I can’t ever remember hearing Dreams of Reason live, and it’d be my top pick.

The Edges of Twilight

The Edges of Twilight was the album that made The Tea Party’s live shows legendary. Fire in the Head is a staple, though I could live without it. On the other hand, The Bazaar is too much fun to give up. And then, of course, there’s Sister Awake, which ought to be considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time; the band has done some really cool stuff with this one live, from Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix inserts to wholly new versions of the song, but it never quite lives up to the (heavily produced) album version.

Some of my other favourite tracks get played sometimes as well. I’ve heard Correspondences and Coming Home both since the reunion, and apparently the band has played Walk With Me as well (which I’d love to hear myself). Shadows on the Mountainside is beautiful; I think I heard this most recently during Jeff Martin’s tour with 777 in 2011. I find Inanna underrated, and the Alhambra version seems ideal for a live show. Finally, I remember once long ago hearing The Badger live, and really enjoying it.

Transmission

While Transmission is one of the stronger albums in The Tea Party’s catalogue, it doesn’t seem to be as suited to live performance as the others. This is probably a result of relatively heavy production and its dark tone (even by TTP standards). Nevertheless, Temptation and Psychopomp are staples in live shows, and having been to a few shows during this era, I’ve heard several others played.

My own top pick from this album would be Gyroscope, which, unfortunately, I’ve heard the band call their toughest track to play live. Another great one would be Emerald; even though the production is a big part of this track, I think a live version would have its own charm, and although I’ve never heard of the band as a whole playing it, we at least have an apparent precedent of Jeff Martin playing it solo. I think Stuart Chatwood could sink his synth teeth into either of these tracks.

Triptych

Of all The Tea Party’s albums, I’m probably happiest with the representation Triptych gets in concert. Without a doubt, The Halcyon Days is my favourite track from this album, and it’s a staple, sometimes with really cool inserts (like Dead Can Dance’s Rakim or Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir). Their big hit, Heaven Coming Down, is always present, but I’m not complaining, it’s an undeniably great song. I used to gripe about The Messenger, but lately either the guitar is getting more awesome, or else I’m appreciating it more.

This is another heavily produced album, so of the songs I really dig, I’m not sure how many (besides the aforementioned) would really translate well live. I think the one exception might be These Living Arms.

Tangents

As a compilation, there are only a few original tracks on Tangents. Of these, I can only ever remember hearing Walking Wounded live (besides Paint it Black being used as an insert with Sister Awake).

My only thought here is that Lifeline would be amazing live, done with the right instruments.

The Interzone Mantras

Despite The Interzone Mantras representing The Tea Party’s return to more of a “live” sound, it doesn’t seem to get much live play. I can only remember seeing one show between 2001 and 2004, so if the band ever played a lot of this material live, I guess I missed it. The major exception is Lullaby, which makes decent live material.

There are a couple tracks on this album I’d like to hear live, and since the production is so light, they should sound great. My top pick would be Cathartik: it showcases some incredible guitar and drums. I think The Master & Margarita has a bit of the flavour Jeff Martin was going for with 777, which made great live rock.

Seven Circles

The last studio album, Seven Circles, naturally got a lot of live play pre-breakup. Writing’s on the Wall was a hit and makes a pretty good opener, but honestly, there are so many other good tracks on this album, it’s not even worth bothering in my opinion. And if I never hear Oceans played live again, I won’t miss it.

Mainstream sound or not, I think this is a hugely underrated album. I’m just not sure how many of its tracks would make good live material. I can imagine Luxuria being great, and it carries a lot of the classic Tea Party sound. Between that and Coming Back Again, Jeff Burrows would really get to show off on percussion. Overload seems like it would be fun too. Finally, I can imagine a live version of Empty Glass being popular.

Sep 1st, 2012
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  1. Sep 14th, 2012 at 13:41 | #1

    Hey, I saw them play with Iron and Wine in MPLS this past fall and they were great. They have a darn good e.p. that they put out for the tour thats very good. I belive you can find some demo MP3’s on their wbteise (you could for a while at least, haven’t checked in a number of months)

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