Set I: Simple Twist Up Dave, Happy Coffee Song, Last Tube, Tube Top Wobble, Mozambique, Cayman Review, Nothing But An E Thing, Alive Again
Set II: Money Love and Change > Plasma > When, Sand
Encore: At the Gazebo, Push On Till The Day
I don't always deal with what I feel when the inspiration is fresh. Having my favorite Phish song as the last I heard them do live (Hershey Park) sent me into the future knowing it would be a long while before I got there again, if at all. But there was still a curtain of hope covering the reality that Trey and the boys were moving on to other things. And then it seemed odd to me that he came back as soon as he did when the Trey Anastasio Band hit the road last winter but that thought helped unfurl what was clouded and I now have a different perspective.
For years, the r, e & y in Anastasio's name could have easily been replace by h, o & r. The mythical god of thunder from Norse legend. Whether it was standing in front of him in the second row of the Pepsi Arena or anywhere else his ferociously powerful licks and vamps could reach me, the essence of sensation in my body was always deeply affected. Maybe I was afraid to see one of my musical heroes fall from the heights to which I built him up or maybe I was fearful that I'd find my own trust in him was vacant.
One of the benefits I've gained in getting to know artists in the scene is that of bursting the romantic bubble to recognize the humanity in each of them. We're all made up of multiple sides, some not even apparent yet, and we're all capable of dazzling accomplishments and searing failures. And, like us all, Trey is entitled to keep exploring himself, to find the fun in whatever way he chooses. The love I've developed for him and his music over the years is entitled to continue to grow in different directions as well.
On my way to the PNC Bank Arts Center, thoughts of the past were unavoidable since one of my first Phish shows was there when it was the Garden State Arts Center. It was smaller and more intimate then and the changes since now seem the perfect mirror for the changes in bands that Trey's undergone. Conversely, as the number of musicians around him has expanded, Trey's contributions have ebbed which leaves him more time to help conduct the realization of his compositions.
During the opener, "Simple Twist Up Dave," the horn section stood out more in the groove with the guitar work more layered thin like trails of raspberry on a dessert cake. Bands like Femi Kuti and Antibalas have been doing a lot with world beat rhythms lately so it was easy to recognize this from the drums and bass Sunday night. Surrounding that, the horn section played quick, chewing duos of notes spaced so that each pair seemed an echo of it's former. The chorus was the first throwback to classic Trey; a looped
out wink of the absurdity he's always reminded me to consider.
"Happy Coffee Song" started out much like the classic soul song "Mustang Sally" and stayed in that gentle groove, which was one of many points in the night where I felt as if the identity the band's going for is mellow. These dips in energy, relative to those moments in the show when the whole band jumped at a fuller onslaught, led me to wonder if they're going for a consistent degree of character on either side of the coin. A Relix article I read
earlier yesterday helped me flesh out this curiosity. In that piece, Trey talks about this project in comparison to the old jazz bands such as Dizzie Gillespie's. Having spent as much time with developing bands of all sizes, I recognized the feeling of tentative expression but that's a part of the game at this point for them. This is not a unit with years of playing together behind them but a growing endeavor, maturing before our ears.
And then came the re-orchestrated "Last Tube." I love to hear songs with which I'm familiar played differently and the lengthy passages between the more recognizable phrases definitely paid off. Jazzy brass trills were swept up by sweeter string tones, married to an overall riff of consistency. The band blended that exploration nicely into "Tube Top Wobble" and "Mozambique," most of which took on a round robin structure much like the performances of Jesus
Children of America in NYC jam sessions over the last couple of years. Take a recognizable portion and use that as a pivot around which the whole band swings to build up the energy so that one or a limited number of the musicians on stage can reach escape velocity before they bring it 'round that corner again.
Letting go the pomp that characterized much of the first set, the bass in "Cayman Review" changed to long, spread out turns to the right and left which developed a graciously lumbering gait. The horns and keys laced themselves around that widely round curvature while Trey picked a particularly crispy noodle and the experiment in texture became more evident. Cayman was one of many points during the show when I was enthralled by the quick embellishments of shape that were applied to the overall groove. It was like successive and
connected mushrooms with sharp definition on the heads but no break between.
Through the night, Trey Anastasio Band brought their jams into rooms with specific acoustical rules where they hung and allowed the sound to bounce off the walls as if fascinated by the new returns they received on the other side of each door. "Nothing But an E Thing"
mellowed and led into "Alive Again" which was a tour through more fixtured hallways only to slide into another room of the quite large structure that Trey seems to have built with the ambitious size of his new writing style. As he sang the lyrics, "time has come for you to be alive again," I got the chills thinking of missing Phish combined with the supreme joy of the greater world of music that Trey has always opened me up to. He gave me the gift of a broader perspective and the high note finish of the first set cathartically
washed away any preconceived notions I might have had in the lot. I was ready for set two with a clean slate.
"Money Love and Change" into "Plasma" into "When" followed suit with many of the themes established in the first set. The songs were long and meandered about a bit more which brought back the idea that they're finding themselves together. Venue security also buzzed a bit more at the back of my head which I allowed to be a distraction but the temperature of it all cooled during the ballad timbre of "When."
When "Sand" started, I was perfectly settled and got right into the rock tempo that prevailed in the tune. This was classic Trey, the creator I came to know so deeply in the 90s, but his were not the only guns blazing. The horns and drums brought it strong at a consistently quicker pace as if the metronome's weight was gradually pushed down it's arm until the clacking rhythm had less than a breath's duration between beats. It was a phenomenally long jam that combined with the encores to show Trey's knowledge for show construction. End big, leave the audience wanting more.
"At the Gazebo" started with a dolorous bleating from the horns much like the intro to "Try a Little Tenderness." It was the perfect middle ground between "Sand" and "Push On Til The Day" with acoustic guitar and bass roaming gently around my heart as it relaxed during the breather. And then POTTD rocked us out into the night, going for it without gnashing teeth but a smile and a tug to come dance and help work it all out. I can still sense the same musical dominance that I always have with Trey but the patience of age has cooled hiss compositions enough to smooth out his voice.
At the end of the show, Trey and Jennifer did a little mirrored boogie that allowed the rest of the band to take the spotlight for a while. I was reminded of Topaz who does the same thing with his band, defraying the eyes to his pals who don't share the marquis but greatly contribute to the groove. After the group focus, the choreography, the experimentation and the power of "Sand" and the encores, I felt no apprehension toward a desire for more. Trey has a lot to give us and I'm glad I took the chance to read a new page.
Trey Anastasio Band will next perform at Verizon Wireless
Amphitheater in Virginia Beach on the 31st and then will close out tour with four successive nights, visiting the Mann Music Center in Philly on the 2nd, Jones Beach on the 3rd, the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, MA on the 4th and then the finale at SPAC in Saratoga Springs next Sunday. Come find the joy with him again and get ready for Oysterhead which is primed to hit the road this fall!!
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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