On his Summer Tour 2001, Trey Anastasio and his ever-evolving and growing band are venturing out into uncharted territories. Every night, Trey is playing a number of brand new songs, including 14 songs written with long-time collaborator Tom Marshall. In the weeks leading up to the opening shows of the tour, Trey gave many interviews in which he talked about how he and the band were relatively unprepared for their last tour, in February and March of 2001. He all but confirmed some people’s suspicions that the winter tour was kind of thrown together at the last minute without enough new material or rehearsal time with the new horn section. But with Trey now speaking of lots of new songs, tons of rehearsal time, an album already recorded with this band, and the addition of former Viperhouse keyboard player Ray Paczkowski, anticipation was high for summer tour.
After a warm-up show on July 4th at Higher Ground in Vermont, Trey and his band officially opened the tour with two shows in Southern California on July 11th and 12th. The opening show, at The Open Air Theater on the campus of San Diego State University, was danceable and fun, although it was clear that this was the first night of the tour. There were still kinks to work out and timing to get down. The show was full of new songs, but that's what this tour is about, even to the point where "Gotta Jiboo" and "Sand," while always welcome, almost seemed out of place. Standouts among the new songs were "Alive Again," "Flock Of Words," and "Mister Completely." These three songs represent one of the great things about this tour: the diversity of musical styles. "Alive Again" has sort of a Latin feel, "Flock Of Words" is in the spirit of the great Trey/ Phish/ T. Marshall ballads, and "Mister Completely" sounds like it would fit in well on the upcoming Oysterhead album, even though it’s an older song off Trey’s album One Man’s Trash.
The next night at the beautiful Greek Theatre in Los Angeles was superior to the San Diego show, despite Trey’s hoarse voice. Rumors of Mike Gordon, Les Claypool, and Stewart Copeland backstage did not materialize into any guest appearances, but that didn’t seem to matter. The L.A. show featured a better setlist in terms of the pacing and song selection. Even just a night later, it was clear the band had gotten tighter. Songs that weren't played in San Diego like "Quantegy," "Drifting" and "Every Story Has A Stone" were welcome additions. "First Tube" rocked and fit in well into the set. The energy in the crowd was higher and the overall atmosphere brought back memories of Phish shows from the past.
While seeing Trey Anastasio and his band is not quite the religious experience that Phish was, that does not mean it isn't as good as or better than most bands touring this summer. While danceable and fun for the crowd, it is also very challenging. It isn’t always easy to hear so much new material. We as music fans have become so used to going to shows and hearing lots of songs we know and love. Trey deserves some respect for playing few real Phish songs and cutting down on the number of covers from the last tour. Perhaps one day, maybe by the end of this tour, songs like "Mister Completely" and "Alive Again" will become tunes that everyone knows and loves. Maybe not. But right now they are new and both Trey and his fans are still getting used to them.
Another challenge for Trey and his band on this tour is to overcome constant comparisons to Phish. Every newspaper review of this tour has done it, I have done it, and many fans have done it. It’s practically impossible to avoid. For every fan that leaves a Trey show this summer saying, "That rocked. 'Cayman Review' was sick," there will probably be 10 others saying "Yeah, but it wasn’t Phish. Would it have killed him to throw a 'Cavern' in there?" Not every Phish fan is necessarily a Trey Anastasio Band fan, as evidenced by the few sold out shows on this tour. Over nine months into Phish’s indefinite hiatus, many fans are still having trouble coming to grips with it. But the thing is, the Trey Anastasio Band is not meant to be a replacement for Phish. It’s something completely different. It’s a show to dance and have lots of fun at. It’s a show to walk out of with a new appreciation for Trey's incredible musical skills as well as his varied musical tastes and influences.
So, if you're debating whether to go out and see a Trey show or two this summer, go for it and you'll have fun as long as you go in with the right attitude. In Trey’s own words, "The time has come for you to be alive again."
Go See Live Music!