Trey Anastasio Band | The Warfield | San Francisco, CA | 05.31.03
There are nights that hit you and then stick with you for days, weeks, months... forever. Saturday, May 31st was one of those nights. Part of what makes up "one of those nights" can often be tied to expectations. If you go in expecting to touch hands with god, you may not walk out of the venue spewing the gospel (unless the band/musician really delivers). But when you go in knowing it will be a good time but end up getting the absolute head-splitting cream of the crop, it's hard to not float on that vibe for days and weeks to come.
Following a good time and solid show by the Trey Anastasio Band on Friday at the Warfield Theater (equipped with some nasty dark sections and an encore that brought Trey and company out through the crowd literally arms length from yours truly), I had no clue that Saturday would be "one of those nights." I mean Friday was fun, but Saturday - HOLY SH*T! I still don't know exactly what happened that night, but I have figured this much out; second set Saturday was one of the best pieces of music I've seen in quite some time. Now I'm sure many of you will call "blasphemy" but I thought the set in question was considerably better than any Trey Anastasio Band gig I've ever seen, and on par (if not better?) than any single set I've seen from Phish since '98. I'm strictly talking about the music, tightness, and enjoyment, not the insanity or anticipation and all the extras that came with the New Years run. One word friends, just one word; Carlos. It's like my boy TK said, "Santana is a sprit, he causes the energy and consciousness of everyone in his presence to be raised to the next level." The guy's a legend, full-on living legend playing next to the Red Wolf himself. Carlos and Trey, Trey and Carlos... I kept hearing the "Y.E.M." from Stowe, Vermont on 7.25.92 running through my head in which these two go ballistic. I've listened to that tape so many times it hardly plays anymore. I don't even know how many times I've said, "I wish I was there... If I could only get the chance to see Trey and Carlos trade licks..." Well as they say, ask and ye shall receive.
I could go in to detail about how Trey's band is tighter than I've had the pleasure of hearing, how the material has found some really expansive qualities, and how far Jennifer Hartswick has come, but to be honest, it was all about Trey and Carlos. The rapid-fire, in-depth conversation these two were having is far beyond any words I could pretend to muster. It almost seems sacrilegious to even attempt to quantify the experience, but for the sake of all who were not there I feel its necessary to at least give it the old college try.
Carlos walked out before the third song of the first set, and although it didn't look like him from where I was, it took about .2 seconds to realize only one man has that tone. Before I even knew it was "Last Tube" (I was too busy gawking at the hooded, sneaker wearing cat who wandered on stage), it became clear that Carlos was in the house. From the first notes the energy jumped as the chemistry on stage was bubbling. While not stepping on each other's toes, the two both had a lot to say, and it took a few minutes before they found the appropriate spacing. But even those first few moments when they were peppering their respective guitars and searching for the right movements, shit went straight past nasty. The "Last Tube" was ridiculous, both of them poking at each other sending the music into the stratosphere and tearing the hell out of everything in it's way.
While the heat was firing, Trey took it down a notch and slipped it right into "The Way I Feel" as he and Carlos exchanged a few of the more drawn out and dirtier guitar lines I've ever heard either of them play. It was slick and smooth, full of sexual innuendos and dripping with pheromones. Even with a few of the worst ushers in the game I found myself having a damn good time. That's something I just don't get, and if this show wasn't so incredible I'd be forced to focus on what in the hell is wrong with the Warfield? It's like they really don't want you to have a good time. Give me a break already; it's supposed to be a party.
Anyway, Carlos left the stage after "The Way I Feel" and the flute fusion intro and driving tempos of Trey's new song "Cincinnati" took over. Certainly an enjoyable tune with a hot jam reminiscent of "Seven Below" it is worthy of a few words, but I'm gonna jump to the "Black Dog" that closed the first set. Something about Trey doing Page will always be music to my ears, but I never thought I'd enjoy Jenny doing Plant so much. She wowed all in attendance with "Dazed and Confused" on Friday and did a nice job with "Black Dog" on Saturday. And no review would be complete without mention of the middle section where the, "Big legged woman ain't got no soul" part got changed to "Skinny legged red head ain't got no soul." (D'uh, he sold it to the devil!) The place erupted and so did Trey as he lit the place on fire with power chords.
At set break I kept thinking, "How the hell do you bring out one of the greatest guitar players of all time in the first set? What do you do to follow that up?" Easy enough, you just bring him out for the entire second set. We all know Trey is never one to be outdone, so to not bring Carlos out for the remainder of the show could have proved dangerous. Lucky for the roughly 2,000 in attendance Trey was just as aware of this dilemma, and the entire second set was like bathing in musical bliss. I'm pretty sure that if god likes guitars (and we all know she does), this second set I keep talking about must be the current sound track for the heavens.
The second set definitely had some song names, and actually there were parts I knew, but as it was all going down I found myself completely swept up in it. I was pinching myself, whipping my eyes and doing the double take as I was shaking my head at light speed. I found myself falling into this repeating cycle; I would be in space doing the hippie shuffle void of any thought and then either Trey or Carlos would rip off a particularly potent section and I would freeze frame focus on the stage and force myself to become fully aware of what I was witnessing. As previously noted, I've been listening to these two battle for years on analog, and I was therefore forcing myself to take it in on as many levels as possible.
Seeing these two square off, inches apart and literally rip into each other's souls did something to me. When the horns walked off stage and we were left with the pared down combo of bass, drums, Trey and Carlos things got hectic. They were dancing so close that if they were even a hair less accurate than they are toes would have been lost and fingers swallowed. It was like two heavy weights, maybe Ali (Carlos) and the prime days of Tyson (Trey) trading licks, bobbing and weaving, moving and slicing, it was simply amazing.
Images of a hunter and the hunted were flashing as well. As if one was chasing the other through an ally and over a wall. Scaling trashcans and cars, diving into windows and appearing under trees. They couldn't shake each other, every turn was matched and every lick returned, they were two moving as one. Every time Trey jumped, Carlos ducked, and whenever Carlos would exhale, Trey would breath in. I could go and on with analogies, like the scene in Star Wars where they are on those motorcycle type pods and are speeding through the forest in Return To The Jedi. It was just like that, avoiding disaster at every turn and moving with psychedelic telepathic beauty. Ya, next level for sure.
From the first notes of "Mr. Completely" until the final echoes of "Caravan" (not to mention the encore) the entire set was undeniable. While it's clear that Carlos and Trey could never take a back seat, Trey's band performed marvelously, providing a perfect foundation for the guitar/light saber war that ensued. Russ Lawton seems to follow Trey's commands to a T on drums while sit-down groove king Tony Markellis constantly keeps the bass rumbling. Tempo changes and timely shouts help make Cyro a great rhythm accompaniment, and his Latin influences mesh perfectly with the back bone of the rhythm section adding some serious spice to the sauce.
While Lawton, Cyro and Tony are locking things down, you can't forget about Ray Paczkowski on clav, keys, rhodes and Hammond. Just as Carlos was matching Trey (and Trey, Carlos), Ray managed to add that little cherry. He never overdid it, and always knew the right spot to throw in his additive. Playing as a third voice behind Santana and Anastasio is a daunting task, but just like every other time I've seen Ray, he proved to be exactly where you want him.
If all that isn't enough to pop your melon, you also have the strong horns working the charted material and the improvisational areas with confidence and extreme care to detail. I especially enjoyed hearing Zeppelin done with horns, definitely up Trey's alley. The entire unit worked like a finely oiled machine. No kinks or hiccups, everything and everybody seemed to be exactly on the same page. Not only was everyone on the same page, each member was reading the same letter of the same word at the same time. You couldn't drop the bottom end out of a raging funk train and throw in a Dave Grippo sax line without this inherent tightness. The band followed the fluctuations that Trey and Carlos were pushing like a mirror. It was really something to witness, the music dug this insanely deep groove but also pushed the limits of psychedelic guitar rock while cloaking it in liquid soul.
There were times like the beginning of "Night Speaks To A Woman" where it seemed like Trey was just moving through the intro to set Carlos up for the dunk. We're talkin' fast break behind-the-back Magic to Kareem, that's how smooth it was. They both have such an amazing sound that when you get them wrapping around one another it becomes almost too much. Carlos' rich, creamy-thick tone balances with Trey's full, laser quick licks like none other. I can only imagine that Carlos feels the same way. I mean, how often can it be that someone can actually keep up with Santana, especially when he's been doing so many of those pop albums. And for Trey, it's definitely not every day that he can have someone to match his call response mayhem to perfection. The conversation these two were engaging in was like that of childhood friends. Finishing each other's sentences and using the same lingo. They seemed so utterly aware of each other's nuances and motivations that they were able to weave multiple languages into their jargon. From subtle touches and slides to full raging rock distortion and every imaginable funk, Latin, jazz, Allman Brothers, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and then some lick there is. As I said, there were song names, but after these two got their hands around them they became meaningless.
Then there was the encore. This is something you may just need to wait to see on the DVD. I mean, I don't think you're gonna believe me any way. I know I didn't believe it. Besides proving that Jenny Hartswick is the ultimate side kick for Trey, and that Trey is capable of just about anything, it proves that you NEVER know what you're gonna get. To be honest, I think a good friend, we'll just call him Legend for now, explained it best:
OK, so after Carlos and Trey and band left the stage and everyone was yelling at volume 14 and the place was about to explode and my jaw was on the ground and my hands where in the "why god?" position in front of me, I passed out hitting my head on the rail in the balcony where we camped. At this point I drifted off and I had this wonderful, odd dream that the band then came back (without Carlos) and did "Root Down" pulling it off like champs with Jennifer FREESTYLING and both of them reading off cards. Full on, Jenny was Mike D and Trey was Ad Rock nailing it harder than you ever thought possible. The entire place was bouncin' with hands waving, shock and awe! And when it was over Trey walked off and set the mic down like Rakim. Right? That didn't really happen, did it?
You know what, I sure think it happened, and I've even listened to it courtesy of the new SHN deal Phish has going, but I still can't believe I saw Trey rappin' off a cue card! And what is even harder for me to believe is how good it sounded. It could have gone sour sooo easily. But the band rocked it and the Jenny/Trey combo was hot hot hot. They finished off one of the best shows to come through San Francisco in a long time with the most perfectly unexpected encore imaginable. This was certainly one for the ages, and one I'll be reliving for a long long time.
Words by: The Kayceman
Images by: John Croxton
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