Trey Anastasio | 02.19 | Chicago

Words by: Cal Roach | Images by: Chad Smith

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB :: 02.19.10 :: The Riviera :: Chicago, IL

Trey Anastasio Band :: 02.19 :: Chicago, IL
Summer 2001: Phish was on hiatus. Trey Anastasio was on the road with his solo band, and everyone agreed that he seemed revitalized and giddy onstage. There must have been something about the freedom/ego trip of playing with a band that carried his name that got the juices flowing for Trey, and it boded well for the return of fresh Phish. Here we are almost nine years later, during a mere half-year break from the day job, and that giddiness is back. Talk to anybody walking out of a Winter 2010 Classic TAB show and you're going to hear the word "energy." And probably something like "off the charts."

In contrast to earlier TAB incarnations, you can't go into these shows looking for 20-minute anything-goes jams. Just like last year's Phish tours, modern TAB is about tight musicianship and focused intensity. The rhythm section of Tony Markellis (bass) and Russ Lawton (drums) was never out for the mind-fuck, just a perfect unwavering groove, and both men were at the top of their game at The Riviera. These are the guys who invented the Tubes (as in, the fertile rhythmic backbone of "First Tube," "Last Tube," "Sand" and "Mozambique"), and this show featured 'em all. The tour itself is a tribute to their contribution to the beloved Phishy legacy as much as anything, and Trey is clearly eager to shine a light on his two most loyal, non-Phish compatriots.

The newest member of the band, 18-year-old trombonist Natalie Cressman (whose father Jeff is a TAB veteran), got her share of the spotlight. At times, it was as if Trey was her big brother trying to embarrass her, but she bore it admirably. Her solos may not have been quite up to par with Jen Hartswick's (trumpet) or Russell Remington's (sax), but her ensemble playing was impeccable and her singing was spot-on. There's a clear bond of affection in the horn section, and Trey never looked more excited than when he was conducting the trio through key changes and gearshifts, particularly during "Mr. Completely" (a huge second-set highlight), where the onstage communication was thrilling.

Trey Anastasio :: 02.19 :: Chicago, IL
For the second straight night, it was tough to hear keyboardist Ray Paczkowski at times, especially early on in the show, but he provided several highlights of a tight yet fairly predictable first set. Some gorgeous cascades on both piano and organ in "Sweet Dreams Melinda" made for a beautiful little jam, and his solo on "Mozambique" stood out even amidst great playing from the whole band. Otherwise, set one relied on the strength of the songs. "Cayman Review," "Push On 'Til The Day" and "Alive Again" have truly stood the test of time as funky pop nuggets of bubbling positivity. "Tuesday" seems destined for similar status; a significant contingent of fans reacts to this song as if it's the Top 40 hit of the night, and the song benefits from the adulation.

Each set featured only one of the new Anastasio compositions making the rounds on this tour, a couple of speakeasy-jazz romps called "All That Almost Was" and "Birdwatcher" (the latter appears on Phish's Party Time bonus album from last year). The acoustic interlude prior to set break featured the usual suspects ("Brian and Robert," "Driver," "Sample in a Jar," "Wilson"), and while some fans tire of the kick down to the under-obsessed, you can't fault Red for spreading some bread and butter.

For those who were waiting for Trey to get down and dirty, it finally happened at the tail end of the "Sand" jam in set two, when he battled Paczkowski's fierce Clav needles for a few bars before returning to the main theme. It was just a glimpse, but following a lovely "Let Me Lie," he caught fire with more scorching interplay with Paczkowski at the end of "Completely." The guitar moaned and whined and growled as he throttled it during a show-stopping "Plasma," and the reggaefied "War Pigs" tiptoe of "The Way I Feel" provided ample room for smoky, slow-core improv and a smooth R&B chorus.

There was no letting up from then on. "Last Tube" may be the quintessential TAB tune, and Trey laid waste to it as the horns returned with a shocking urgency and then the whole thing did a robot-running-out-of-juice crash. Jen's orgasmic howls to cap the rousing "Black Dog" that followed were straight out of "Whole Lotta Love;" she was almost too risqué for an all-ages show.

With the room a shrieking funnel of appreciation, the band returned for the virtually unbeatable encore combo of "Sultans Of Swing" (the horns play the iconic Mark Knopfler solo at gypsy-brass speed) and "First Tube." It's just better with horns, people. Even if you weren't in the room, you can picture the end: Trey amping the feedback up and up as he brandishes the light saber and points it toward the heavens. After such a supremely crafted crescendo, the emotion resonating from a display like this is, well, off the charts. It's just way too awesome to be cliché - so far. Everyone knows you get a lot of repetition if you trail a whole TAB tour. The show needs to be experienced in one or two show bursts, but it does need to be experienced if at all possible.

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB :: 02.19.10 :: The Riviera :: Chicago, IL
Set I: Shine, Cayman Review, Push On 'Til the Day, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Mozambique, Alive Again, Gotta Jibboo, Small Axe, All That Almost Was, Alaska, Valentine, Tuesday, Brian and Robert*, Driver*, Sample in a Jar*, Wilson*
Set II: Dragonfly, Night Speaks To A Woman, Sand, Let Me Lie, Mr. Completely, Plasma, Birdwatcher, The Way I Feel, Last Tube, Black Dog
E: Sultans of Swing, First Tube
*Solo Acoustic

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB are on tour now; dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of TAB in Chicago...

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