Normally when I attend a gig at The Gaelic Theatre in Sydney, it’s usually full of sweaty people adorned in band t-shirts going bananas to metal. But this time, the room was filling with lots of nicely dressed people and couples filing in for Jeff Martin’s The Ground Cries Out Sydney stop. It was definitely a different vibe and I felt like the odd one out for a change. But when it comes down to the music, it doesn’t matter either way.
Opening the evening’s proceedings were young Perth quartet The Joe Kings who delieved a set of blues rock with twists of funk and R&B all thrown in. Understandably, it can be hard for an opening band at times as there was a big gap between the band and crowd for some reason, but an advantage that The Joe Kings had over many opening acts was the amount of enthusiasm and energy they had on tap. Their lead guitarist Phill Leggett alone covered every inch of the Gaelic’s small stage with a huge amount of said enthusiasm/energy (and a wild Afro that would have put that Wolfmother wanker to shame), he was like watching Angus Young crossed with Stevie Ray Vaughan or Rory Gallagher. Although they had a relatively short set, they warmed up the crowd to a healthy glow and surely would have gained a few new fans in the process.
The room started to fill up and that big gap between crowd and stage disappeared before Melbourne’s The Eternal hit the stage. In comparison to many of their previous visits, this was going to be a different crowd to the metal crowds they had played to in the past, but with the band’s direction that has moved towards hard rock, it was going to be interesting to see how it all would come off. Fortunately, everything fell into place and the guys delivered a blistering set that was mostly comprised of material from their latest release Under A New Sun such as “Collapse”, “Delerium and Desire”, “Cast In Stone” and the dark, groove laden “A Thousand Shades of You” with a few old songs (albeit retooled to fit in with their current sound) thrown in. The set showed how well they gel and how tight they are in their three piece configuration. Frontman/guitarist Mark Kelson displayed a higher level of confidence with his stronger vocals and free flowing lead guitar work and the rhythm section of bassist Dave Langlands and drummer Marty O’Shea kept the groove going with engine-like precision.
By the end of their set, the majority of the crowd had been won over and wanted more.
As well as the supports had played and won a good majority of the crowd over, there was no doubt who they were there to see. The intro tape hit and after about ten minutes, Jeff Martin 777 graced the hallowed stage boards of the Gaelic to the strains of the title track of their latest release The Ground Cries Out and the crowd came alive and just loved it. After they launched into a somewhat half-arsed sounding version of “Overload”, the dreaded technical-difficulties demon reared its ugly head as bassist J. Cortez’ amp decided not to work so Jeff went into a solo electric version of “Requiem” that segued into “Hurt” which was all and good and made a lot of the women melt.
Once the technical problems had been resolved, the band went into the very roots-like “1916” off the new album, then into yet another track from The Ground Cries Out – “Queen of Spades”. That’s when it dawned on me that Martin seemed like he was on auto-pilot. With all due respect to the other guys in the band, the chemistry that Martin once had with The Tea Party was missing. He did proclaim that The Ground Cries Out was one of the best records he had made and that is true — the album is quite a damn fine release — but when played live, it just seems hollow like the flame was not burning.
Regardless of my view, the band kept the crowd in attendance happy by playing some old Tea Party songs such as “Shadows on the Mountainside”, “The Bazaar” and “Coming Home”, alongside too many cover songs and the aforementioned new material of which I honestly think was too much. Yes, they have an album to promote, but Jeff Martin has such a rich back catalogue it would have been nice to hear something from say, Transmission or even The Armada. None the less, the crowd filed out of the Gaelic with smiles on their faces, many with their newly purchased merchandise and walked off happily satisfied into the night.
Having waited quite sometime to see Jeff in the electric setting, I walked away underwhelmed. On the other hand, The Eternal were excellent and proved why they are as good as they are. Let’s just hope The Tea Party’s reunion tour comes down to Australia and reignites the fire that burned so brightly in the past instead of extinguishing it.