“I took my inspiration [for ‘Transmission’] from an Italian artist called Piranesi. The thing about him is, I think it was in the late 1800’s, he went a little bit crazy. I mean, he was a gifted artist but at the end of his life, all he could do was sketch stairwells leading down to what he considered hell. This is really uplifting, right? But the thing is that what I went through personally when I was writing the lyrics for ‘Transmission’, I was exploring, shall we say, the darker side of things, but – it’s all about coming back up, and I promise you I’ve come back up, but in the meantime… let’s celebrate the darkness!”
– Jeff Martin, The Tea Party.
I wasn’t able to attend The Tea Party’s Perth show as part of their 20th Anniversary Transmission tour, but Suzanne ‘Rexy‘ Yasa – bass player of Sydney rock band The Mis-Made, went to the over east shows to review on behalf of Toward Music. Here’s what she had to say:
Friday, November 3rd, 2017 – The Odeon Theatre, Hobart
As an avid Tea Party aficionado, I’ve been blessed in recent times with an abundance of opportunities to quench my thirst for one of the most powerful and innovative three-piece bands on the planet. From the Edges of Twilight 20th Anniversary Tour in 2015 to Tea and Symphony earlier this year in which The Tea Party collaborated with symphony orchestras for dynamic shows in Melbourne and Sydney. No sooner had the symphony dust settled, TTP announced they would return to Australia to celebrate 20 years of their 1997 double platinum album, Transmission.
I’d like to say I dragged my buddy Naomi along, but you don’t “drag” someone who already has flights and accommodation booked in three cities during the 2 minutes you’ve taken to finish scrolling through your phone calendar mumbling…”am I free in November…?”
Thus, we found ourselves in Hobart on Friday 3rd of November, dressed in black and leather, mingling with the classic cohort of loyal/eclectic fans always found at Tea Party shows, and Instagramming the catchy tour hashtag – #TX20.
Waiting at the front barricade of Hobart’s Odeon Theatre for the show to begin, I made the rookie error of making eye contact with a swaying woman with wild eyes and a plastic cup of ale in each hand, who was spilling a little of each alternately on her shoes. She swigged one of the beers, flung the plastic cup with abandon and swayed up to me grabbing the neck of my shirt, leaning in to spit beer on me while she yelled in my ear: “He was on my plane!!”
“I’m sorry?” I replied.
“Jeff Martin was on my plane. Can you believe it? I got my photo taken and everything!” She swigged the remaining flat beer and returned to her spot on the rail ‘woooing’ intermittently and loudly. I liked her, she had brought her party face to the game.
A mini-roar erupted from the fans, and I turned to the stage expecting to see the band, but instead it was the guitar tech, Kenny. This guy has a cult following among TTP fans, and he looked around, seeming mildly embarrassed to acknowledge the women screaming his name. He scurried offstage as the lights dimmed and Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood strode onto the stage with all the supreme confidence of a band that knows they’re about to blow your mind and you’re going to like it.
A long-haired, tubby, middle-aged man with a beard next to me was so excited he couldn’t contain a bellowing and bemusing cat-call: “Do me, Jeff!” as he bounced up and down enthusiastically like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert.
The show started balls-to-the-wall with Army Ants, and it fired the people around me on the floor into a leaping frenzy. The screaming at the end of the song was so electric that Martin held his hands out to the crowd in mock protest and growled – “we’re just getting started”, grinning slyly as the introductory riff to Babylon filled the theatre and the throng of devotees showed no signs of easing off.
Fans of Martin are well-familiar his ability to tell a story. He’s an interesting man with a broad and learned knowledge of art, culture and mythology – and he lead his audience down a short but poignant path as he introduced the song ‘Psychopomp’, explaining that it was about exploring into the darkness and returning with light.
“You want more?” Martin goaded the crowd. “Be careful what you wish for!” as the dark Middle-Eastern introduction to Gyroscope resonated through the floor and a small but enthusiastic mosh pit self-initiated itself on the right-hand side of the dance floor.
Despite this tour being a tribute to the success of a single album, and although all eleven tracks were performed live, they were not performed in strict album order, which I liked, because it brought an element of mystery to the show. Even the most seasoned TTP fans could not predict what song was coming next, and so thus followed Emerald and Alarum.
Pausing for a break to change guitars, Martin groans into the microphone as Kenny passes him a Gibson EDS-1275, a double-neck electric guitar, popularised by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, most notably during live performances of Stairway to Heaven. “You know what I love?” Martin enquires rhetorically of the crowd as he lifts the guitar strap over his head, “Heavy guitars. It’s so fucking heavy man. My chiropractor loves this one.” The crowd laugh heartily and one man from the back bellows “That’s fucken rock n roll, duuude”.
“I want to talk to you about something”, Martin continues after a moment. “My friends, as you know if you’re watching the news, we live in some hallucinating times now…it’s fucked, but we’ll talk about that orange chipmunk [President Trump] later…Among other things, it’s his treatment of the better half of the species, which is the women in the audience this evening. We are reading in the news, you know, you have the Harvey Weinstein scandal, there are all these things coming out of the woodwork, it’s insane that such a beautiful creature has had to endure and grow up with such tyranny and disgusting habits on behalf of …[pause]…us. So, that being said, this next song is for all the ladies in the audience tonight, because we adore you, we worship you, we love you.” …and the haunting minor-chord introduction to Release drowned out the adoring screams from the women in the room. My heart is warmed as I recall that Martin isn’t all charming words and affirmations – The Tea Party donated all profits from the release of this single to the White Ribbon Campaign for domestic violence and has a long history of supporting the cause.
“So that song is beautiful”, Martin said in summation as Release faded away. “This next one is NOT. I remember when I wrote a demo for this song, Jeff and Stuart hadn’t heard it yet. I had these lyrics and everything but there were no guitars, no real drums and there was just like – fucking white noise, and I swear to God they both looked at me and they’re like “Ok he’s lost it”. Ladies and gentlemen, after 20 years, this is Transmission”. The title track to the album and the tour was incontestably a crowd favourite and there was hardly a set of lungs in the room not committed to singing the chorus hook “sending Trans-miss-ion” as the whole room joined together to fill the Theatre with singing.
A little secret, an instrumental piece entitled Embryo, was tucked in to the album anonymously and purist fans were not disappointed to discover it was included in the show, followed by Pulse and Aftermath, which Martin dedicated to the “late, and eternally great” David Bowie, whom he attributed as a principal inspiration for the Transmission album.
The first half of the show was concluded with the rumbling sexual under-tones of Temptation, a song known to make several of my female friends weak at the knees at the very imaginary possibility of Martin singing the song for them personally. “You may have heard things about me”, Martin growled, “about the black magic, about the drugs, about the sex, the alcohol.… they are all true, but never let it be said, that I would ever lead you into Temptation.”
The second half of the show was a compete treat, a surprising and pleasing mix of some of TTP’s popular hits (The River, The Bazaar, The Ocean at The End, Heaven Coming Down, Save Me, Winter Solstice and Sister Awake), mixed with some covers including U2 – With or Without You (“my favourite song, ever, played by my favourite band!” exclaimed a woman near me, with tears in her eyes), David Bowie – Heroes, a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused (a clear crowd favourite, judging by the raptured expressions of the people around me), The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black and an unanticipated but brilliant cover of Tool’s Sober.
Saturday, November 4th, 2017 – The Forum Theatre, Melbourne (SOLD-OUT)
The next day Naomi and I collected our dusty asses from our hotel room and flew straight to Melbourne for the much-anticipated, sold-out show at The Forum Theatre.
I looked around at the buzzing crowd and again I found myself again trying to analyse what made a “typical” Tea Party fan, but other than dressing in black and singing all the lyrics with the hypnotic adoration of a Christian at a convention, it’s too hard to pinpoint. My crowd-watching was interrupted by the intro track announcing the band’s impending arrival, and the deep bass stopped everybody in their tracks! I saw a few people near me turn to their friends and mouth “wow…..” as the ground trembled beneath our feet. 10 out of 10 goes to The Forum sound tech dudes, it was immense!
The setlist was the same as last night in Hobart, so knowing what to expect freed me up to take in even more of the show. From my vantage point, I found myself completely drawn into the drumming of Jeff Burrows. I realised that about 3 or 4 songs had gone by and I simply hadn’t watched anyone else on stage yet. I could watch that man drum all day, he’s a monster. I was so entranced by Burrows I felt like I was drumming along too…and I’m not even a drummer. That’s how magical he is to watch. Martin referred to Burrows publically as “one of the greatest rock drummers in the world”, and far from being vainglorious, I believe he speaks the truth.
Guitar tech, Kenny, came out to switch Martin’s guitar between songs and just like in Hobart, a portion of the crowd screamed his name enthusiastically! I’m pretty sure I heard one woman holler a tipsy offer of a marriage proposal in Kenny’s direction. This time Martin acknowledged Kenny’s fans and rolled his eyes “who is that guy anyway?” He joked, and everyone laughed as Kenny disappeared off stage in a hurry.
The crowd vocals were a massive highlight of the Melbourne show, especially during Temptation and Save Me in which Martin vamped the fans for several reprises of the crowd participation section, and appeared to enjoy the mob’s enthusiasm.
Martin’s guitar solo during the title track of their latest album The Ocean at the End (2014) emulates the greatest aspects of any Pink Floyd solo that has ever transported you to a new world or forced you to pull the car over in rapture until it’s finished. I spoke to one woman who said she was there “for the old stuff” and didn’t know any TTP post-1997, and she it was a stand-out song for her, having never heard it before.
Friday, November 10th, 2017 – The Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Gathering a week later at The Enmore Theatre for round 3, there was absolutely not one little hint of being any less excited because I’d seen the show twice already. Far from it! In actual fact, I was more excited because I knew what was coming, and I couldn’t resist engaging the people around me on the floor in excited banter.
“I hope he plays The Messenger!” said one very excited man next to me. “That’s all I want to hear tonight!”.
The Theatre filled up fast, and I asked a friend next to me who he thought a typical TTP fan was. He glanced around briefly and then said with confidence “I don’t think you can pick it, I mean – I’m an accountant from Canberra!” This accountant went on to sing along to every single song with vehement, contagious enthusiasm!
And so, the opening two tracks Army Ants and Babylon seared their way through the room, ramping up the crowd (especially the accountant). For the first time, I stood towards the back of the room, and took in the show as a whole instead of clambering to the front for what I thought was a better view, and damn – it was good from back there! From my rear vantage point I did witness the strangest thing though: a fight which broke out between some middle-aged blokes at the front of the dancefloor. A fight! At a Tea Party show! Hopefully, that’ll be the first and last time I see that…dickheads.
Fighting aside, the Sydney show just seemed to be brimming with high emotion all-round. During the final bars of ‘Release’ Martin was so overcome by the awe-inspiring crowd sing-a-long he beseeched the crowd: “Man, that was so beautiful. It takes a lot to get this Dark Lord of Rock to have tears in his eyes…..”
The major highlight of the Sydney show was actually the second set. Maybe it was because it was the final Australian show of the tour, but I think it was the aforementioned hot-blooded vibe searing through the whole Enmore Theatre. When the boys came out after intermission, they slammed us into the wall! The clever medley of original TTP songs blended with covers was so tight that at times I caught myself holding my breath during some of the super-schmick time changes – during which never once, did they falter.
The Ocean at the End was again a notable mention. That song always renders me speechless, but hearing the passion in which Martin portrayed the lyrics with such depth that his voice broke was a treat for even a die-hard fan like me.
Martin’s final words to his adoring devotees was a tease he had not offered at the previous shows. “How would you like us to come back in 2018 with some new music?” he enquired wryly, and stood back to listen to the roar of affirmation from a crowd who had been worked to the hilt for nearly 3 hours and by this stage would have screamed the house down if he’d offered a Triangle solo. This is not the first time Martin (and also Burrows) have recently mentioned the promise of new music in 2018, which is outstanding news for those of us who’ll be first in line.
Photos and live review by Rexy.