"An early morning to get to #Buffalo – rocking @CanalsideBflo for our best #American fans, can't wait!"
That was Jeff Burrows, drummer with the Tea Party, tweeting in the early a.m. on Thursday and rather handily encapsulating the feeling of excitement that has been building here since the announcement that the revered Canadian trio would be making its Canalside debut during the week that included both the Fourth of July and Canada Day.
Our relationship with this masterfully grandiose trio goes back to the beginning, when word of a progressive-minded new band boasting the beautiful bombast of Led Zeppelin and the genre-stretching influence of Middle Eastern and Indian music began to seep over the border.
Many sweaty and inspired Buffalo concert-club dates ensued throughout the '90s, and our love affair with the band was in full flight.
In many ways, Thursday's Canalside show represented the full flowering of that relationship – this was a major stage for the band and a payoff for the loyal fan.
The Tea Party's music is huge, dramatic, deeply hued and broadly dynamic, which is to suggest that it is more than up to the task of filling a vast space. That's what happened straight out of the gate on Thursday, as the group tore into "Writing's On the Wall," and singer/guitarist Jeff Martin's agile upper-baritone resounded across the waterfront.
In February, the band celebrated the 20th anniversary of its critical and commercial juggernaut "Transmission" with two sold-out nights at the Town Ballroom, during which that album was performed in its entirety. Eager, one assumes, to give their audience something different, the band offered a setlist on Thursday that pulled from nearly every aspect of its 25-year career.
It was an undeniably strong cross-section of spirited (and spiritually charged) Tea Party music – though if I had to quibble, I'd have asked for something additional from the often-overlooked masterwork "The Interzone Mantras," perhaps the sexy and supercharged "The Master & Margarita."
Ah, but who can argue with a set that included an early take on "The Bazaar," a song that in many ways is the quintessential Tea Party epic, all Phrygian mode majesty and rhythm section propulsion, Martin's darkly brooding singing lending a sinister, dramatic effect?
This was glorious. And loud. Let's not forget the significance of amplitude here, for the band's manipulation of light and shade runs the full volume gamut. Honestly, we could've gone home happy after this tune, but Martin, Burrows and bassist/keyboardist Stuart Chatwood were just getting started.
"Psychopomp," a heart-rending "Heaven's Coming Down" into U2's "With or Without You" and a frenzied "Save Me" filled out a set that included encores of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused," the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" and David Bowie's "Heroes," the last of which put us over the top.
I've seen this band some 30-plus times over the years. If this wasn't the best of the bunch, it was certainly close to it.
The Tea Party at Canalside Live!
Thursday night at Canalside