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Live Review: The Tea Party

6 November 2017 | 1:19 pm | Rod Whitfield

"To see this album being played more or less end to end by this band in this venue is something deeply special."

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The last time this scribe saw The Tea Party live, they were accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. That was a real once in a lifetime, 'moment in time' experience, and is always going to be a tough act to follow. But, back as a three-piece in the best venue in town, they were still their magnificent selves.

Making tonight very special too is the fact that they are celebrating the 20-year anniversary of their breakthrough Transmission album, which is holding up beautifully two decades down the track. Tonight they play the album end to end in almost the same track order. Babylon and Emerald are out of their regular slots, plus opening with second track Army Ants and closing the set with classic album opener Temptation works a treat, the latter being arguably their best known and biggest crowd-pleasing tune.

The album is a journey into the darkened soul and mind of main man Jeff Martin, who apparently in turn travelled to some very dark places when writing the album. And that's what this live set turns out to be, an extension of that journey. But as the man himself says, The Tea Party's music is all about going to very dark places, delving into, exploring and celebrating the darkness in the world and in everyone's soul and psyche, but then returning to the light, and again that is exactly what this set does.

Psychopomp is indeed full of pomp and circumstance, Release is the musical embodiment of Martin himself, intense, dramatic and brooding, while the title track is given the aura and reverence from band and crowd that you would expect and which it deserves. Transmission is a transcendent work — and that is proved beyond all shadow of a doubt again tonight. To see this album being played more or less end to end by this band in this venue is something deeply special.

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But they ain't done yet, not by a long chalk. After a 20-minute breather, they return with a more relaxed set, seemingly of whatever they felt like doing at the time, including partial covers of U2 (during Heaven Coming Down), their biggest influences Led Zep, the Stones and Bowie, the excellent title track from their last album The Ocean At The End, which is an epic and atmospheric slow-burner, plus the awesome Save Me, replete with violin bow solo.

Winter Solstice and Sister Awake round things out beautifully, and the packed-out Forum crowd goes home on a dark high after well over two hours of superb Canadian-style, Middle-Eastern influenced progressive rock.