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Tea Party mesmerizes at Garf’s

Crowley Band bass player Brian MacDonald’s dark eyes were flashing excitedly Sunday night.

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Review by Shelley Arnusch

Who: The Tea Party with The Crowley Band

Where: Garfinkel’s

When: Sunday, Aug. 29

It was partly due to the lingering adrenaline rush every band gets from playing live and partly due to the complimentary beverages he was receiving at the bar. But it was mostly because Tea Party front man Jeff Martin had just finished a seamless, technically astounding medley of Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Tool.

A guitar aficionado and metalhead, MacDonald had just heard the fallen angels sing.

"This," he enthused while gesturing toward the stage, "is a f___ing band!"

The small but enthusiastic crowd assembled in the area in front of the stage at Garfinkel’s was in accordance with MacDonald’s pronouncement.

There’s something awe-inspiring about the Toronto trio’s heavy, yet accessible guitar-driven sound laced with snake charmer riffs and mesmerizing vocals that clearly sets them apart from any given band on any given Sunday.

What the audience already knew was to be reinforced: this band is special.

You wouldn’t have known it from their entrance. The Tea Party took the stage inconspicuously and dove right in. The second opening band was an unannounced no-show and the crowd wasn’t ready for the main event. Heads turned. Martin’s dark-tousled, Jim Morrison-esque presence gave them away immediately and in mere seconds the collective attention was focused on the stage.

They held court with the aforementioned high-energy opening covers then launched into a tantalizing mixture of new songs from recently released album Seven Circles , and greatest hits such as Save Me, Temptation, The Messenger and Fire In The Head from their previous six studio albums.

The newer songs were heavier – more rock ’n’ roll than Arabian Nights – and were received enthusiastically. The crowd actually relished the new, rather than just putting up with it until the band rocked out another familiar hit.

Martin’s hypnotic baritone is definitely a key factor in the Tea Party’s decade plus longevity. His chords – both guitar and vocal – are stronger than ever and show no signs of backing down, lurking like a cobra in his songs before striking out powerfully.

Though the band has a reputation for being dark and brooding, Martin didn’t play into it. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Sunshine and Roses, but he smiled, made eye contact with the crowd and invited two girls from the audience to belly dance on stage while he temporarily ditched his axe for his oud (the mandolin-on-steroids he employs for the more Marrakech-inspired songs).

The band was quick to play the encore and capped the night with a driving cover of the Stones’ Paint It Black – which proved a perfect fit with the front man’s affinity for tension-laden vocals.

The relatively small turnout, in part a result of a communication breakdown between the promoter and the venue, didn’t seem to faze Martin. Rather, he seemed at ease with the intimacy, feeding on the intensity of those that had come out.

Those that were there now have a Tea Party story to amaze other hardcore fans.

Those that rue missing the event should consider gathering in a wayside community hall and sending word to the band.

It’s entirely possible they just might strike.

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