Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dino Perrucci
Trey Anastasio Band :: 08.07.08 :: Music Hall Of Williamsburg :: Brooklyn, NY
With a headlining spot lined up for a few days later at All Points West (read the review here), Trey Anastasio decided that the best way to shake off the rust that had formed from over a year off the road was to play an extremely intimate warm-up gig at the roughly 400-person capacity Music Hall Of Williamsburg three days prior. With tickets scarcer than a nun at a Las Vegas adult film convention, expectations ran sky-high for the triumphant return of "the original" Trey Anastasio Band, featuring the rhythm section of Tony Markellis and Russ Lawton. For good measure, Anastasio added Ray Paczkowski on the keys, which proved to be a wise move.
| Trey Anastasio|
With tons of ticketless fans outside the venue as early as twelve hours before showtime, the buzz was one that I had not felt since Anastasio played with those other guys. Many had visions of grandeur, hoping to relive Anastasio's first solo tour back in '99, when Lawton and Markellis backed him and helped write some tunes that Phish would eventually call their own. While this night recaptured some of the past magic, it is clear that Anastasio is looking forward and just dying to play music, as many of the new tunes, featuring his patient style of jamming and signature tone, would show.
Walking into a revamped club, which used to be North Six, even the last row of the floor was closer than many had ever been to Big Red. When he and his cohorts finally hit the stage, every hipster within a five mile radius was shook clear out of their hip-hugging, skin-tight black jeans and children's medium t-shirts. Opening with a new tune, "Alaska," which Anastasio debuted during a few solo acoustic gigs in the past months, it set the tone for a light, fluffy, flat-out FUN night. This tune has a typical Phish vibe, with a clear play-on-words that I frankly cannot wait to hear the Phab Phour play. Although this was the first "new" tune of the night, Anastasio did a great job of mixing in some old school classics that were concocted by this trio back in '99.
Next up was "Gotta Jibboo," which evoked cries of sheer joy. A somewhat standard version that showed slight signs of rust, this was the first taste of remembering just how fuckin' rock solid Lawton and Markellis are as a rhythm section. I don't think I've heard two musicians play in this setting that lay it down thicker than molasses, while never faltering and taking you on a steady, repetitive ride. Another new tune, the up-beat "Peggy," saw Paczkowski get his first proper turn at the keys. If Shine was Trey's attempt at pop, "Peggy" seems to take a page from that playbook, while also trying to move forward. Simply put, another fun tune that showcased Trey's brain at work on lyrics during his forced time off due to his very public drug arrest and probationary period.
| Trey Anastasio & Ray Paczkowski|
"Sweet Dreams Melinda" followed in the vein of this first set, floating along and again showcasing a very tasty run on the keys. Trey's jamming was especially patient and this song just exuded the happiness everyone was feeling, none more so than Anastasio. "Sand" was another tune that everyone was dying to hear, but again showed some signs of rust, but still had unmistakable groove. This version stood out for its space, taking the place of extra notes with a very relaxed feel. After about six or seven minutes, Anastasio did offer some of his shredding licks, before returning to the spacey, relaxed feel at song's end.
Next up was "Cayman Review." Another happy, light, fluffy song, this was the funkiest number yet. Keeping the loose feeling of a warm-up gig, Paczkowski's keys offered a breakdown in the middle that was atypical of this song, but certainly welcome and something that I feel strengthens the number. Keep it. Another new tune, "Gone," was a little sloppy with a guitar solo again in the vein of "Shine." This one was probably the most forgettable new tune, just nothing too extraordinary. But as I thought that, "Windora Bug" returned from its exodus, being played for the first time since 2003. Finally giving the seated big man, Markellis, his spotlight, you could visibly see the fun he was having singing this tune. It was again, loose and funky, with Trey hitting some licks that resembled Bob Marley's "Soul Shakedown Party."
| Tony Markellis|
The set-closing "Night Speaks to a Woman" was, in my opinion, THE song of Set One. Granted, it did suffer from the lack of Jen Hartswick's background vocals (these boys can't really harmonize), but the music - which these boys get paid for - was simply on fire. With this tune, the band and crowd seemed to finally get in total sync, and the tone for a smoking Set Two was set. The crowd also got involved by singing the "like water on the breeze" line, something that would again play a role later in the night. Hipsters and hippies were dancing as one with machine gun Trey firing on all cylinders - in short, this is what everyone here was expecting.
Set Two opened with a solid, rocking "Tuesday" with Paczkowski again spicing things up. They kept the crowd on their toes by mixing in tunes from all eras of Trey's solo career. "Drifting" bubbled up next and easily presented one of the most poignant moments of the evening when Trey stepped up to deliver the lines, "I've been drifting for years at sea/ Now you've come along to rescue me." With the crowd offering - loudly! - the "Love, love, love" backing vox, Trey smiled wider than any other point up to that moment. He threw a gasoline filled grenade into the crowd when he sang, "I'm back where I belong," which gave me chills and then deafened me with the entire place going absolutely ballistic, realizing that the possibility of many more great musical nights lay ahead with our de facto leader. Trey's soloing reflected this mood of new beginnings, soaring effortlessly. This was a top-notch version, with the music benefiting from the crowd participation.
"Backwards Down the Number Line" was a song that Anastasio had debuted solo acoustic, but this electric version showed great potential. Trey and Paczkowski gelled here and offered a nice one-two punch. Expect some cool things from this catchy new number. "Spin" was dark and nasty, featuring a spiraling slow jam that seemed to leave the stratosphere.
| Trey Anastasio|
Without a doubt, the debut of the night was "Valentine." Starting off with some of the best Trey lyrics in years, including the repeated, "Spinning in circles, walking a straight line" and "Release the ropes around your neck" refrains, Anastasio seems to have rid himself of the larger-than-life albatross he's been bearing for the better part of the last five or so years, mainly due to drugs and some overly harsh criticism. The jam was circular, like the head-spinning motion of the washing machine on high. This was an extremely inspired jam that continued to rise like a phoenix - much like the plight of Anastasio himself. The last jam in particular evoked chills and a HUGE cheer as he cut with ease and we all collectively saw more coming from him. With this song not only did I realize Trey is back but that there are great things that lie ahead for him.
"Greyhound Rising" was another good song, with a Tom Petty-esque riff thrown in, focusing on feedback and distortion at times. "The Way I feel" was another welcome treat, slowing things down into the dirty funk of Markellis' basslines. His bass is so simple but enchanting it seems to put you in a headlock like a boa constrictor.
"Mr. Completely" was standard and not as scary as I've heard it be. It did feature a spooky, spacey, atypical jam at the end though that was clearly different from its beginnings. "First Tube" closed out the show in all of its fist-pumping glory. A song birthed by The Eight Foot Fluorescent Tubes and later adopted by Phish, this tune will always have its origins with these players.
The concert showcased the past and present and pointed to the future, Anastasio seemingly wanting to play any and all music as if he was making up for lost time. Maybe it was appropriate then that the encore featured "Heavy Things," another tune this trio debuted and Phish made their own. Paczkowski, who in previous bands was guilty of getting lost in the mix, again added a hitherto unknown but very welcome spicy flavor to this tune. However, the diehard fans in attendance made Trey crack up at the tune's conclusion with very prominent "Cheesecake!" chants that reminded us all of Big Cypress nearly a decade ago.
The final tune of the evening was a sucker-punch surprise: "Bug." A Phish tune that had never been played by these guys, the reaction was one of surprise and disbelief more than anything else. The jam was inspired but didn't reach the full heights of a proper Phish version. All in all though, this was a perfect way to welcome back a former chapter of Trey's career while still focusing on what lay ahead, a seemingly bright future for him and those of lucky enough to bear witness.
Listen to this show here!
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Trey Anastasio :: 08/07/08 :: Music Hall of Williamsburg :: Brooklyn, NY
Set One: Alaska*, Gotta Jibboo, Peggy*, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Sand, Cayman Review, Gone**^
Windora Bug, Night Speaks To A Woman
Set Two: Tuesday, Drifting, Backwards Down The Number Line*, Spin, Valentine**^, Greyhound Rising**^, The Way I Feel, Mr. Completely > Light*^, First Tube
Encore: Heavy Things, Bug
*new original; words and music by Trey and Tom Marshall
**new original; words and music by Trey
^first time played
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