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January 31, 2006 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-31

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 9

New doc
shows life
and quest
of yogi s
By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer

Rising jam band vows
to trip out the Blind Pig

Warbling loud, monotonous chants,
three brightly colored, nearly naked

Hindu holy men
carefully pick
their way along
the sharp back-
bone of a rocky
mountain ridge.
The snow-capped
Himalayas loom
tall and majestic

By Jake Smith
Daily Arts Writer
The future looks bright for former house-
party rockers Tea Leaf
Green. After their stint as
a supporting act during this Tea Leaf
past fall as openers for jam- Green
rock demigod Trey Anasta- Tonight at
sio and select shows with 9:30 p.m.
Gov't Mule, the band has Atthe Blind Pig
funneled their newfound
support into a headlining
tour, which rolls into the Blind Pig tonight.
Sprouting out of Nor-Cal's fertile music
scene, Tea Leaf Green is a collection of eclec-
tic musical tastes and influences paired with
a relaxed but focused demeanor. After meet-
ing in class at San Francisco State University,
bassist Franz Hanzerbeak and drummer Scott
Rager started jamming with no intention of
ever becoming serious about their music.
After adding Rager's high school friend, gui-
tarist Josh Clark, and keyboardist/frontman
Trevor Garrod, the soulful quartet was pieced
"We met Trevor at a house party and we've
been playing together for the last seven years,"

Hanzerbeak said.
"At first, we would play at other house par-
ties and the occasional small club."
Growing up around the diverse milieu that
is Los Angeles, their broad musical inspira-
tions are present in their songs.
"Our sound is a combination of our tastes,"
Hanzerbeak said. "Trevor is coming from a
folky songwriter vibe and (Josh and Scott) are
more rock based. I'm rooted in classic rock
and hip hop."
Coming off their fall opening role, Tea Leaf
Green heads to Ann Arbor with a new per-
spective on touring and what it takes to make
it big. The blends of musical styles within the
band do make practice difficult, but the band
finds the tension rewarding.
"They strive to learn new material before
shows and they push their band to play well.
I (look) up to them and how they go about
(their) music," Hanzerbeak said.
This new mindset has installed a distinct
drive in the band on their current tour.
"When you're on tour, it's tough to be
(really) creative on that sixth day in a row, but
whenever we get on stage, we make it excit-
ing," Hanzerbeak said.
"It took a long time (for us) to get serious
as a band; we've only been touring for three
years," he added.

Naked in
At the Michigan
Paradise Filmworks

courtesy of Madison House

Tea Green Leaf will perform a "psychedelic" set tonight at the Blind Pig.

in the distance. Straight off a postcard,
this picture-perfect image of personal
hardship and natural beauty provides
the resounding visual center of "Naked
in Ashes," a documentary pivoting
around the typical practices of North
Indian yogis.
But it's not all mountain vistas.
The film spends the bulk of its time
down in the riverside slums of Hardi-
war and Benares, cities that rest along
the banks of the holy Ganga river, an
essential location in the beliefs of these
Hindu yogis. To them, it is holy Moth-
er Ganga, the source of life. No mat-
ter what environmentalists might say
about its extreme levels of pollution,
they swarm to its banks at least twice a
day to bathe in its purifying waters.
One guru in particular presides as
the movie's central character, sporting
a long, matted beard, large potbelly
and thick, ankle-length dreads. He's
Shiv Raj Siri, a gregarious and enthu-
siastic yogi, known for walking about
town with his disciples and an over-
sized, evil-deterring, Neptune-style
trident. Within yogi circles, however,
Shiv Raj's fame stems from a beloved
practice which he proudly terms his
"penis-control exercise." Shiv Raj Siri,
it seems, has a knack for pulling a load-
ed Jeep with his bare genitals, and he
has the newspaper clippings to prove
it (most notably from the occasion on
which he performed the feat for the
Indian Parliament who apparently had
little interest in seeing it).
Just when you think you've got the
gist of the yogi life, "Naked in Ashes"
pulls a sucker punch (like Shiv's strange
penis revelation) and keeps you guess-
ing. The camera pans along the barren
scenery of the Ganga's flat riverbanks
only to break its solemnity with the
signature ringing of a cell phone; but
before you can go medieval on the
presumably offending theater patron,
one of the onscreen yogis cheerfully
answers to have a quick word with his
downstream guru.
But most yogis do pledge to shun such
modern developments, of course, choos-
ing instead a life of austere minimalism.
They live in bare, streetside tents. They
practice yoga positions of the pretzel
variety, paint their bodies with thin,
gray coats of holy ash and take issue
with social impediments like alcohol.
When in possession of excess food, they
give to the poor. Their general con-
demnation of materialism is repeatedly
emphasized. They abandon basic pos-
sessions like shoes. That annual trek to
the Himalayas, and its inevitably snow-
strewn trails, is performed barefoot and
without complaint.
The cast of such committed persons
is predictably colorful, even if the film
largely fails to properly distinguish
between them. We meet Hanuman Das,
a leper who, shunned from other social
circles, finds a home and acceptance as
a yogi disciple. There's an elderly Ger-
man woman who founded a Himalayan
ashram with her yogi husband. Another
yogi mentions his resolution to live on
nothing but Ganga water as a necessary
abandonment of worldly pleasure. And
one notable holy-man-in-training, the
"Standing Baba," plans to remain on
his feet for the next 12 years in a show
of spiritual commitment. For sleep, he
rests on a special sling that allows him
to stay upright; large open sores have
already developed on his calves from
the blood flow's heavy strain.
In presenting the radical yogi cul-
ture, "Naked in Ashes" wisely excludes
an external narrator, instead allowing
the yogis to speak for themselves. The
notion that the world "wouldn't run
without saints and yogis" becomes all
the more meaningful when coming
straight from the horse's mouth; they
see their spiritual-shepherd role in the
world as a vital, even necessary one.

But despite the documentary's fasci-
nating material, "Naked in Ashes" fails
to fully engage the audience. Its editing
is noticeably scattered, jumping from
vignette to vignette rather than follow

There has been an exponential explosion of
their fanbase - an obvious mark of their new-
found maturity - which will hail a new chap-
ter for Tea Leaf Green, shooting them into the
upper echelon of the jam-band world.
Hanzerbeak is excited to start off this next
tour in venues that return the band to their
roots, with intimate atmospheres that allow
them to ignite their tunes on stage with bois-

terous energy.
As Tea Leaf Green rolls into the Blind Pig
tonight, expect two strong sets of jam-driven
tunes with lyrics reminiscent of the laid-back
west coast songwriters of the '70s.
Hanzerbeak is optimistic to say the least:
"We're there to put on a good show. If you want to
show up and dance and have a psychedelic expe-
rience, expect a good time," he said.


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