Tsunami Benefit :: moe., Trey Anastasio, John Medeski, Sam Bush :: 02.10.05 :: Roseland Ballroom :: New York City, NY

Unfortunately in these chaotic times, it often takes a tragedy to force people to look beyond their differences and to unite for a collective goal. With widespread death and destruction, the tsunami in Southeast Asia has levied a hefty, nearly incomprehensible toll that can be felt across the globe. Luckily, the rousing humanitarian effort of the international community has been rapid and nothing short of extraordinary.

Tsunami Benefit :: 2.10 :: NYC
In these rare moments of borderless compassion and lofty charity, the interconnectedness of existence is thrust into the forefront, and the common language of love is spoken by all. The music world finds itself in a unique position, however, because its penetrating vibrations are truly universal and can unite the masses without an unfortunate precipitating event. So when the scene's most skilled musicians come together to play a benefit for a cause, the magnitude of the gig is amplified – especially when the names moe., Trey, Medeski, and Sam Bush are attached.

A sold out Roseland Ballroom played host to the Tsunami Relief Concert featuring the superstar-spangled guest lineup with moe. in the headlining role. All proceeds from the event were matched by the Dave Matthews Band and his Bama Works Village Recovery Fund to assist rebuilding an east coast sea town in Sri Lanka. Bama Works, Dave's philanthropic brainchild, recorded a final tally of a whopping $155,000!!

Rob Derhak & Trey Anastasio :: 2.10 :: NYC
There was definitely a current of anticipation coursing through the jam-packed venue beyond that of a normal moe. show. Trey Anastasio was in the building. Besides an appearance with his ten piece ensemble last September at the Austin City Limits Festival and a recent surfacing near Atlanta to unveil some new material, we last saw our hero fragile and wilted as Phish said a melancholy "Goodbye." So needless to say, everybody was eager to hear and see the guitar guru in the flesh.

But make no mistake, just as many attendees were there to see moe. Taking the stage promptly at 8 p.m. sans guests, the jamband veterans came out strong with bassist Rob Derhak's crowd favorite "Rebubula." moe. actually played this song in NYC just days prior in its role as "house band" for tapings of Last Call with Carson Daly (to be aired 2.16-2.18.05). The opener was an appropriate (if not ironic) nod to the tsunami:

Chuck Garvey (moe) & Sam Bush :: 2.10 :: NYC
And the sirens' song sweetly sucks me down into the ocean blue
I'll find my way back to you
Can't be bothered with the natural fact
I guess she's gone and she ain't comin' back
Been at the sea for forty days and forty nights Let her go without any fight

Guitarist Al Schnier's pop-tinged "Mexico" would follow. Sam Bush added a sizzling fiddle to the mix, making it sound more like a hoedown than a trip to Tijuana. Bush, a founding member of Newgrass Revival, has also recorded with the likes of David Grisman, John Hartford, Peter Rowan, and Bela Fleck. We wouldn't get a taste of Bush's mandolin virtuosity until later in the first set when he took a solo run at Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes."

Medeski, Derhak, Anastasio :: 2.10 :: NYC
moe.'s "Plane Crash" would catapult the Roseland into orbit behind the soaring percussive rumblings of Jim Loughlin and drummer Vinnie Amico. The band truly found the groove here as the crowd gyrated in stride. John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood would make his first foray into the forefront here with a blistering organ solo in the middle jam section. Medeski would keep the spotlight as "Got My Mojo Workin'" was dedicated to the recently deceased Hammond B-3 organ legend Jimmy Smith – the symbolic torch being passed. That torch would then light the fuse that sent the blues/funk vibe warping into a slow, spacey, exploration. moe. guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey's exchange of licks and solos set a hypnotic tone before the entire gang settled back into "Mojo's" methodical funk. The amazing textures from the keyboard work of Medeski and then later Ray Paczkowski (Trey Anastasio Band) added a certain layer of depth and maturity to moe.'s unique sound.

Anastasio, Schnier, Medeski :: 2.10 :: NYC
Finally, it was time for the man who "doesn't need an introduction" to take the stage. Anastasio joined in for a set-closing cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads." Trey, in his trademark faded jeans and logoless black long-sleeve shirt, whipped the audience into a frenzy when he took vocal duties for the second verse: "I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride/ Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by." The title and lyrics seemed fitting for Anastasio's return. The selection seemed to have some deep meaning, but whether it was meant as a pensive reflection for an aging musician or as a sarcastic nose-thumbing from a raging rock star remains unclear. It is exactly this type of conundrum that gives Trey his charm and appeal beyond just his overflowing talent.

The jams amongst the collaborating musicians were the highlights of Set I, but the improvisational moments of Set II would be even more transcendent. Though moe. remained on stage for the entire second set, except during Trey's solo acoustic moments, the spotlight belonged to Anastasio.

Bush, Derhak, Anastasio :: 2.10 :: NYC
"Night Speaks to a Woman" off of Anastasio's album Plasma kick-started the festivities. Paczkowski, from Trey's band and formerly of Viperhouse, took keyboard patrol. Jennifer Hartswick, a surprise guest also from Trey's band, added her sultry, baritone vocals to the mix. Like many songs from Trey's solo book, "Night" has a strong groove-oriented backbone grounded in drum and bass, which Amico and Derhak held down in respectable fashion. With this foundation, Anastasio unleashed a blistering solo, bending and twisting, soaring and raging. The tempest eventually dissolved into an intricate yet delicate section where Trey, Garvey, and Schnier performed guitar-a-trois, each patiently and beautifully filling space with their world-class chops and psychedelic musings. Meanwhile, Loughlin was working the mallets on the xylophone and Paczkowski was blending his brilliant organ offerings – all before returning to the chorus and closing strong.

Rob Derhak & Trey Anastasio :: 2.10 :: NYC
moe.'s classic segue "Spine of a Dog" > "Buster" was on tap next. "Dog" was a major audience sing-along, and the light, playful improvisation matched the song's mood. Anastasio's remarkably distinctive and recognizable tones melded with the other guitarists as they played a game of follow the leader. "Buster," like Phish's "Guyute" and String Cheese Incident's "Howard," is about a talking/flying pig and also contains similar major musical movements within the composition. The jam, however, was off the fucking hook (to put it politely) with Schnier making sure he wasn't outdone by Trey and Medeski ensuring a mind-melting stew.

Trey Anastasio (solo) :: 2.10 :: NYC
An initially hesitant yet unyieldingly funky take on Stevie Wonder's "Boogie on Reggae Woman" faded into a percussion jam. When the drums stopped, Anastasio was left standing on stage alone holding his acoustic guitar instead of his electric. He chose two songs a phan wouldn't normally expect as "unplugged" - a mellow yet heartfelt "Chalkdust Torture" segued into a particularly intense and spirited "Wilson." Audience participation was deafening for both selections, particularly for "Can I live while I'm young?" and the "WILSON" chant.

moe. joined by Anastasio, Medeski, Paczkowski, and Bush closed out the second set with an insane thirty-five minute "Meat" (moe. "Meat," not Phish "Meat"). Between the tag team keyboard attack on the brain stem, Loughlin's xylophone madness, the penetrating and piercing fiddle work, and the three-guitar interplay, the aural assault was pleasantly overwhelming and transportive.

Tsunami Benefit :: 2.10 :: NYC
And after all that, it was the encore that really put this astounding show over the top. A rarity in the post '95 Phish era, Frank Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" was a gem of a treat. It's funny how some things never change – just like in the old days, "I can name that tune in two notes." The crowd went bonkers simultaneously on the introductory drum roll and pretty much stayed that way throughout the majestic piece. Hartswick would then join all the players for a rockin' version of J.J. Cale's (made famous by Eric Clapton) "After Midnight" to close the show. The last time Anastasio performed this number was with Phish to close the early set of the legendary millennium show on New Year's Eve 1999.

Attempting to capture the magic of the Tsunami Benefit in words just doesn't do it justice. It's hard to imagine a better line-up of musicians. It was Thursday night in the center of the universe. It was the true spirit of Community – bringing people together in a sacred space for creating and sharing. Mother Earth's waves of destruction brought misery and gloom to nations of people. It's reassuring to know that our music community, within the walls of the Roseland Ballroom on February 10th, 2005, created (and will continue to create) waves of positivity and healing that will wash ashore halfway around the world.

Listen to moe. on Rhapsody.
Listen to Trey Anastasio on Rhapsody.

Words by: John Smrtic
Images by: Michael Weintrob
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 2/17/05]

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