As the sun set over the Niagara River on Sunday night, those gathered in North Tonawanda’s Gratwick Riverside Park got more than just a picture-perfect, color-washed view to end the sweltering day. They also got a stirring, satisfying performance from Canada’s hard rock darling, the Tea Party, as part of the Niagara River Rocks concert series.
The band – lead vocalist/guitarist Jeff Martin, percussionist Jeff Burrows and guitarist/keyboardist Stuart Chatwood – took the stage under a cloudless sky with “Writing’s on the Wall,” a quick-moving rocker interspersed with short bouts of slower, dreamier moments. As evening transitioned into twilight, the creamsicle orange sky faded into a light purple, which perfectly matched the stage lighting of this particular song. It didn’t last for long, but the identical ombre color scheme was bewitching, giving off the feeling that the stage was just a part of the greater landscape.
The Tea Party is a master at taking hard rock and giving it a unique edge, and that skill was on full display Sunday. Its 90-minute set highlighted all of its many takes on rock throughout its 17-year career.
Some, like the popular “Heaven Coming Down,” were traditional and almost balladlike, while other selections showcased the band’s echoing, exotic, almost eerie “Moroccan Roll” sound, which features Indian and Middle Eastern influences and instruments, such as the sitar, goblet drums and the hurdy gurdy. Some featured the sound throughout, while others started with slow, meditative jams, giving almost a hypnotic feel to the performance, before launching into rock ’n’ roll-style chorus and verse.
A few songs, especially the supremely bluesy “Sun Going Down,” had Chatwood rocking a banjo, and in others, Burrows lay down beats on a pair of bongos.
Martin is clearly a seasoned showman. Toward the end of the show, he rocked a double-necked guitar, at one point showing off his considerable skill and playing the instrument with a violin bow, and he sampled Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in the middle of “Save Me,” which was a surprising and awesome addition.
Between songs, he talked to the crowd like it was full of old friends. Indeed, judging by the age of the majority of the listeners, most had been following the Tea Party since its 1990 debut. He earned laughter and cheers when he introduced “Lullaby” by saying his fans could use it to sing to sleep the kids they had made while listening to other Tea Party material. He also mentioned his own offspring (“the only two I know about, at least”), referencing how his booming, intimidating singing voice, so crucial to the band’s sound, is also the one he uses while disciplining his kids.
“Why did we wait so long to come back here?” Martin wondered aloud following “The Bazaar.” The crowd – which had endured the venue’s lack of shade and earlier high-80s temperature to take in the rockers’ return to Western New York – roared its approval. Head-banging and air-guitar performances were rampant from the very first song through the encore performance, so if these guys make their way back soon, you can be sure they’ll find a willing audience in Buffalo.
Opening for the Tea Party was American Authors (formerly known as the Blue Pages), an indie outfit from Brooklyn. The band gave an energetic performance, playing its hit “Believer” and also the catchy “Best Day of My Life,” which has been featured in several commercials. Also appearing were Buffalo’s Crash Fuse and Rochester-based Melia.